NFPA Fire and Emergency Services Protective Clothing and Equipment Project

Published:  04 October, 2012

Summary of the presentation by NFPA Staff Liaison David Trebisacci at NFPA 2012, Las Vegas.

This project is substantial in terms of documents. The correlating committee has jurisdiction over seven technical committees (TCs) that oversee a variety of products.

The standards within the project are of two types. First off, product standards that cover protective clothing and equipment design, performance, testing and certification requirements. The second type of standards deal with selection, care, and maintenance of these products, but unfortunately not every product has this accompanying standard.

David Trebisacci listed the seven technical committees as:

-            special operations protective clothing and equipment

-            structural and proximity fire fighting protective clothing and equipment

-            electronic safety equipment

-            respiratory protection equipment

-            emergency medical services (EMS) protective clothing and equipment

-            hazardous materials protective clothing and equipment

-            wildland fire fighting protective clothing and equipment

The correlating committee’s scope in the project covers responsibility for the documents pertaining to design, testing, performance and certification of protective clothing and equipment (PCE) for fire and emergency services to protect against exposures common during emergency incident operations.

It is also responsible for the selection care and maintenance (SCAM) of the PCE used by the emergency services.

Its function is high level and it aims to resolve conflicts between documents and any conflicts between the scopes of responsibility of different technical committees. It can also establish new technical committees or discharge old ones, as well as ensure that representation in committees remains fair and that membership is balanced according to NFPA rules.

The correlating committee also looks at scheduling technical committee reports to ensure there are no ‘overloads’ within revision cycles, as well as determine whether committees have given due consideration to all material they are presented with.

The current members of the Project’s correlating committee include IAFF, Safety Equipment Institute, Intertek, Department of the Navy, UL, and several manufacturers including DuPont.

Special operations firefighting PCE

The documents this committee oversees include:

  • NFPA 1951 technical rescue ensembles – which has just undergone a rigorous revision cycle
  • NFPA 1983 life safety rope and equipment: now published, with accompanying care and maintenance out later this year (NFPA 1855)
  • NFPA 1953, doc on contaminated water operations PCE will be out in 2014
  • NFPA 1975 on stationwear and uniforms: will be published in 2013
  • NFPA 1952 surface water operations PCE, will be published 2014.

The scope of this committee is special operations PCE except respiratory equipment – so PCE that provides hand, foot, torso, and head interface protection for incidents involving structural collapse, trench rescue, USAR, high angle mountain, and swift water flooding rescue. It also covers stationwear and work uniforms.

Interestingly, NFPA 1975 will be the first documented project to be processed under the new NFPA revision process, explained David, ‘It is a pretty ambitious project and it will make life easier for those on the technical committees and also individuals wishing to submit public input to the next editions. So you’ll be able to go online, see an existing copy of the previous edition doc, and make suggestions and changes. The committee will look at all of that input and what has been received. I’m really looking forward to it because it will facilitate the work of both the technical committee and staff.

Commonly asked

Q: ‘We want to buy some 100% cotton polo shirts, can we wear them and still comply with NFPA 1975?’

A: ‘The official answer is compliance is key. If the objective is compliance with NFPA 1975, then that garment has to be tested, certified and labelled,’ said David.

Electronic safety equipment

This committee is working on two documents: NFPA 1801 relates to thermal imaging cameras and is currently available. NFPA 1982, Standard on Personal Alert Safety Systems is expected to be out in early 2013.

‘There are some other interesting projects happening with electronic safety: a request has been made to the NFPA standards council to establish a project on portable radios. And further down the route, we will be looking at an umbrella document that will look at electronic safety equipment for hazardous environments.’

Bruce Varner, chair of the committee, added that the standard would address the radio itself, not radio systems. ‘If you pick up anybody’s radio literature it says they are not designed for use in temperatures in excess of 130-140 degrees, depending on the manufacturer. We will subject them to more stringent requirements than that. All the radio manufacturers are aware of that process and have indicated willingness to be involved.’

Structural and proximity firefighting PCE

Chief Stephen King chairs this committee which has responsibility for two documents: NFPA 1971 (structural and proximity fire fighting PCE) and NFPA 1851 which is the SCAM that accompanies NFPA 1971.

Many people are unaware of the differences between structural and proximity fire fighting PCE. Structural PCE includes the following activities: rescue; fire suppression; property conservation during incidents involving fires in buildings and cold structures; vehicles; marine vessels; and like properties.

Proximity firefighting is fire suppression; rescue; property conservation during incidents involving commercial; military; aircraft fliers; bulk flammable gas fires; bulk combustible liquid fires; combustible metal fires; and fires that produce high levels of radiant heat and conductive heat.

Commonly asked:

Q: ‘Does the standard require me to buy turnout coat and trousers from the same manufacturer?

A: The answer is no, you can purchase from different manufacturers provided protective coat and trousers have at least two-inch overlap between layers (per NFPA 1500). (But warranty and other issues should be considered.)

Chief King then stepped in to explain some of the new developments related to these documents: ‘Usually 85-90% of the content of documents are at the front, with the rest in the Annex area. The current editorial of the SCAM of NFPA 1851 is 50/50, so there is much more in the Annex. My goal when I started was to first add more text to the Annex than in the body of the document itself. There is a tremendous amount of information related to purchasing for departments; things you should be thinking about such as interface areas. It is a great document and the new document will provide more direction in the Annex.’

A question from the audience related to whether there would be a revision to the 10-year recommended replacement of firefighting ensembles. NFPA 1851 specifies that ensembles should not be used 10 years beyond the date of manufacture. ‘This issue is not lost on the technical committee and it comes up continually even between cycles, so they are always looking at it, as well as the Fire Protection Research Foundation and other organisations. The technical committees will consider making changes if data is available and persuasive.’

David then showed a slide with the annex item that is attached to 10.1.2 of NFPA 1851, with discussion of the concept of mandatory retirement; ‘The consensus of the TC led by the fire service segment is that the life of the turnout suit is generally less than 10 years, regardless of when it was originally produced. It is imperative that the elements are regularly inspected and cleaned, and well maintained. Just knowing the age of the elements won’t tell you it is safe.’

This can be a contentious issue with some of the smaller fire departments: ‘I often get calls from a small department and the chief mentions the limited budget and outlines how they’ve had gear packaged on a shelf for a long time and that they can’t believe that they can’t open the packages and use it because it was made 10 years ago. According to the standard if they want to remain compliant the answer is no. It can be hotly debated on both sides.’

Respiratory protection equipment committee

Bill Haskell from the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) chairs this committee, and he said that one of the issues that had been identified by NIOSH as far back as 1984 was that hooking up a buddy breathing system (emergency escape breathing system) to an SCBA voided certification status of that SCBA. This is contradictory to what happens in the field, where segments of the fire service do train for – and have available – ‘buddy-breathing’ escape devices.

‘We have changed that policy. What we are doing now is when manufacturers come to us in the future to certify SCBA to a federal standard, we will look at the performance of the buddy breathing system with the emergency escape breathing system and assure that the primary SCBA system still remains in positive pressure even though it is hooked up. And then in NFPA 1981 you will then have even more performance criteria for these types of systems. That is a big change, because in the past you would buy SCBA and you would have a buddy breathing system, and everyone would sort of ignore the fact that it was there but you would depend on it in an emergency situation. So it is a step forward.’

The other issue currently being wrestled with concerns a proposal to change the end of service time indicator time – and actually increase it. These are devices built into a respirator to alert the user that the breathing air provided by the respirator is close to depletion. ‘Right now this is going through federal court. Currently it is set at 20-25% of the remainder of breathing air, and the next edition of this standard is proposing to set it at 33%.’

Replacing cylinders in SCBA

A member of the audience then asked whether it was possible to use an SCI cylinder with a certified SCOTT SCBA pack. Bill answered that while it was certainly possible to buy these cylinders, NIOSH was concerned about the configuration management and quality assurance of all the parts working together, when a cylinder was used that was not covered by the NIOSH quality control oversight. ‘By Federal Court of Regulation we have to certify these as a system.’

Bill added that, generally, cylinders came without valves, and that people would take the valve out of the old cylinder (whose service life had expired) and insert that in the new cylinder – or put a new valve in. ‘And if we look historically at SCBA failures there have been problems where non-qualified people have changed cylinder valves resulting in the cracking on the cylinder leading to catastrophic failures.’ He added the issue was compounded by the fact that fire departments could save dollars by doing it this way. Bill then said that next year NIOSH was intending to open up a federal docket to solicit information on this exact issue. ‘It will take some time but maybe someday we’ll get to the point where we can certify large components like that independently. But right now we can’t do it and we know it is costing you a lot of money as a department.’

Developments in respiratory protection equipment concluded with the remark that the new standard would contain different testing criteria for the thermal performance of face pieces – ‘a big issue right now.’

Hazardous materials

There are three documents related to this committee; vapour protective ensembles for hazmat emergencies (1991); liquid splash protective ensembles (NFPA 1992); and protective ensembles for first responders to CBRN (NFPA 1994). The committee intends to develop a SCAM document to cover all three documents, although each standard will have its own particular section within the SCAM.

Lastly, the EMS committee is working on NFPA 1999, which covers protective clothing and ensembles during incidents involving medical operations prior to arrival at a hospital. What is special about this standard is that it includes both single and multiple use garments eg examination gloves, cleaning gloves and work gloves, as well as eye and face protection.

The presentation ended with an invitation to view the documentation on the new system and submit any input using the newly developed user-friendly methods.

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