Fire Fighter Personnel Protection
A FIRE ENGINEERING Survey Discloses “Vital Statistics” about
Revolutionary changes are taking place to make fire fighting safer as well as more efficient
AT BEST, FIRE FIGHTING is a dangerous job. Fire, and its components of smoke and toxic gases, is a treacherous foe of the fireman. So, too, are infection from cuts, overexertion and a dozen other hazards that dog the smokeater from the time an alarm sounds, until he has returned to his quarters.
In olden days the height of protection for the fire fighter was a leather or metal hat, and rubber coat and boots. Their use at fires was not always “regulation,” and even where it was, part or all of the coverings came off at times, such as when practicing overhauling and mopping up. Those were the times of the strong lungs and weak mind. And they buried a lot of firemen in those days, whose boast was “they could take it.” Masks were for the other fellow—the sissies. Even gloves were “fielder’s choice” (did you ever inspect the backs of the hands of some of those veteran laddermen to see the scars left by broken glass sliding down the ladder rails?) As for goggles, asbestos suits (they had them in those days) and numerous of our “required” safety devices of today they had no place in firemanship.
It is a sign of the progressive times that FIRE ENGINEERING can report things are different today.
Safety in the fire service is a “must in most municipal fire departments, at least insofar as personnel protection is concerned. And with the help of state, county and local fire schools and colleges, volunteers are becoming cognizant of it, too.
In many places this transition has come about in spite of conditions, rather than because of them, circumstances arising from the fact that fire fighters of today face dangerous hazards never dreamed of by their progenitors.
“We live in a generation which has seen the greatest industrial expansion in history. We are currently in the midst of scientific and technical changes that are growing at an increasing rate of speed. The degree of accelerated progress becomes more apparent when it is observed that while it took the steam engine 100 years, the electric motor 50 years, and the internal combustion engine, the vacuum tube and radio 25 years to become standard parts of our industrial and economic makeup, it has taken television, synthetic rubber, plastics, miracle drugs, jet propulsion, not to pass up atomicenergy, less than 10 years to become something more than promising realities.” So wrote Dr. Mathew M. Braidech, Director of Research of the National Board of Fire Underwriters.
All this acceleration in living and working is producing fire and explosion hazards that lay in wait for the fire fighter who is sometimes too engrossed in his work to think of protecting his person against them. If you question it, review the casualty records as published by this Journal.
Reviewing the forward progress being made in fire suppression, measured against increasing fire hazards which firefighters must encounter at some time in their career, the question naturally arose: Is the fire service doing all that it should to improve safety in the fire protection forces?
The best way to find out was to go direct to representative fire chiefs from coast to coast, and ask them. This, FIRE ENGINEERING did, in this instance with particular attention to protection of personnel. And here are the results of that survey:
Basic equipment—turnouts: The basic equipment (hat, boots and turnout) is regulation in 70 per cent of all departments queried. For the most part, these departments are full-paid and part-paid. Many volunteer organizations however, make the wearing of full basic equipment regulation, also.
In 65 per cent of these reporting departments, men are required by general orders to have the protective clothing on their persons when responding to an alarm.
The matter of purchase and issue of basic protective clothing varies widely. In many communities, the men purchase the necessary items as required, but over 50 per cent of the departments reporting issue helmets and turnout coats.
In 43 per cent of the departments it was stated that the so-called uniform allowance (discussed in detail in another survey) was intended to cover the cost of working equipment, in addition to the dress uniform.
Helmet types: As an indication of the penetration of plastics into the life of the fireman, it was disclosed that the most popular helmet style was the moldedplastic type. Nearly 73 per cent of respondents stated the synthetic material was “standard specification” although some reported that leather and metal styles still are in use but would be replaced eventually by the plastic type.
Metal helmets are standard in 14 per cent of the departments, and 13 per cent use the leather type. Incidentally, a number of large fire departments still adhere to light-weight metal head gear.
Canvas turnouts: There has been some discussion in firemanship circles over the relative popularity of canvas and rubber turnouts. According to replies to the survey, canvas turnouts, including coat and quick-hitch trousers, are popular in 62 per cent of departments while rubber is specified by 38 per cent.
In those departments supplying coats alone, rubber is more common, while reports indicate that among their personnel, there is preference for the canvas turnout pants. Breakdown by states of this question indicates that climate has a distinct hearing upon the styles of garments worn. The short canvas turnout coat, with duck or other canvas quick-hitch trousers, predominate in the warmer climates.
Although no chief commented upon it, personal interviews in different states among different volunteer departments suggest that one reason some volunteer companies like rubber coats is that they are more easily folded and make a better appearance when racked on apparatus.
Foot Protection: Puncture wounds rate high on the fire fighter casualty lists and it was interesting to determine just what men did about their footwear, particularly boots.
Only 5 per cent of reporting departments said boots were not used and of the great majority which used them, 45 per cent stated that metal or leather innersoles were standard protective devices for additional safety. The remainder reported that foot protection is optional with their personnel.
Hand Protection: An interesting detail of the study had to do with hand protection—gloves. This item is issued as standard equipment by many departments, in which cases the type and kind is determined by the department. Where gloves are not supplied as issue equipment, the men apparently prefer some definite style. The survey developed the styles preferred, as shown by the follow -ing table:
Rubber or plastic coated …. 30% Canvas (many with
leather palms) ………. 17%
Wool ……………….. 9%
Leadier ……………… 8%
Unspecified …………… 36%
In the case of gloves, as with turnout coats, the climate may have a bearing upon type and kinds of gloves worn. It was not determined to what extent department regulations make mandatory the wearing of gloves, but a number of municipal departments do so.
Equipment belts: There is some latitude exhibited by various departments in the case of equipment belts. They are regulation in 20 per cent of the departments reporting, and where not required, are sometimes carried as optional equipment by men who desire them.
Several respondents said that only ladder truck personnel were required to carry equipment belts. A number of reports listed the use of rope hose tools as belts. In addition to other items desired, they are always available to the men whenever needed for their original purpose.
Items most frequently carried by personnel equipped with the belts were re-
ported as follows:
Spanners …………….. 64%
Hose straps …………… 18%
Axes (including pompier hatchets) ……. 14%
Rope ……………….. 3%
Hydrant wrenches ……… 2%
Other ……………….. 1%
Additional protective equipment
As additional protection for personnel engaged in certain operations it is common practice for most fire departments to carry special safety equipment on the apparatus, rather than to distribute it to all firemen. When such special material is needed men detailed to the tasks requiring its use, obtain the equipment before going into action. Inventory of most rescue units, also, will indicate the extent to which these special items are carried. In an effort to gain a clear picture of the general use of the more important special protective items, fire chiefs were asked to report on six items carried by the department. This they did as follows:
Face shields ………….. 7%
Goggles ……………… 24%
Rubber safety gloves ……. 74%
Asbestos safety gloves……. 46%
Asbestos sheets ………… 14%
Flame-resistant rescue suits.. 18%
One department reported that face shields art: standard equipment for all ladder trucks. A detail worthy of special mention is the decision to equip all men of the New York Fire Department with safety goggles. Eye injuries, many of them due to plaster and other dust, have a high incident in most municipal fire department accident records. It is believed that New York is the first large fire department to plan to equip all individual fire fighters with such devices.
Other equipment details which are taking hold widely are asbestos sheets and gloves, and the new insulated, aluminized safety suits. Where before, departments so equipped carried only limited numbers on rescue or other special units, now serious consideration is being given to providing such safety features for all apparatus.
Breathing equipment nearly universal: An encouraging note sounded by the survey concerns respiratory equipment. The use of respiratory protective breathing equipment is practically universal, a marked contrast to conditions of not so many years ago.
Only two paid departments and four volunteer out of the several hundred respondents, reported that masks were not supplied. While many reported the use of the filter-type mask alone, the great majority use demand-type or selfgenerating masks in addition. It was also surprising to note that many chiefs reported the use of self-contained breathing equipment to the exclusion of the filter mask. It was noted, also, that a number of departments have hose masks in service.
The following table indicates the percentages of mask equipment in service:
Filter masks ………….. 70%
Demand air masks……… 67%
Oxygen (demand or selfgenerating) …………… 50%
Hose masks …………… 2%
Reviving Apparatus: Another encouraging detail of the study concerns equipment for emergencies involving victims of smoke, gas or drowning, possessed by fire departments.
The popular resuscitator is in use in 88 per cent of the fire departments reporting, and inhalators were mentioned by 57 per cent of respondents. A great number stated that both items of equipment are in service.
Another modem protective device which is coming into broader application is the explosive gas detector, or explosivemeter. Twenty-four per cent of the departments reporting have purchased these devices.
No accurate figures were received on the adoption of Geiger and other counters for detecting radioactive materials, but such safety equipment is being considered by many departments, particularly those in industrial “target area’ cities.
—Photo courtesy Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Co.