New Ideas for Turnout Gear

New Ideas for Turnout Gear

How important is the personal protection of fire fighters? Equipment, extinguishing agents and appliances have been improved over the years, but when it comes to the improvement of protective gear for fire fighters’ personal safety, we have been dragging our feet.

In our area, 25 miles southwest of Chicago, we have all the problems and responsibilities of any major metropolitan area, including grassland and forest areas as well. With these problems in mind, a little over a year ago I considered designing some turnout gear to provide high heat reflection, good visibility, light weight, long life, protection from both chemicals and weather, and low cost.

I talked with salespeople and manufacturers’ representatives about making changes in their products and met with, “It can’t be done” and “We couldn’t change production for so small a number of coats.”

Features desired

After many months of thought and meetings, we found a supplier who was willing to give it a go. The coats were placed in service for testing in January 1971 by four of our line officers.

The major features we were looking for and testing were:

  1. Lightness of weight
  2. Heat reflection
  3. Visibility
  4. Elimination or alteration of the conventional D-ring and snap fasteners for easier donning and removal of coats.

Features of test coats

The features of the finished product were as follows:

  1. Sturdy Hypalon material, aluminized and with reflective trim.
  2. Large bellows pockets, reinforced at the bottom with one third of the pocket made of leather. The pockets also have Velcro on the flaps to hold them closed.
  3. Underarms and shoulder areas tailored to provide freedom of movement with minimum ride-up of the coat when arms are raised.
  4. Sleeves with leather cuffs (which eliminate a wear spot on the sleeves) and elastic wristlets. Leather straps are attached to hold wristlets to the leather cuffs.
  5. Double snap-out liners, both with vapor barriers. Both liners can be removed for cleaning. The outer liner is a lightweight flannel for summer wear and the inner winter liner is of Dacron for warmth and light weight.
  6. D-ring fasteners and conventional snaps were replaced by Velcro on the inner and outer flaps. The inner flap extended to cover the whole chest area. This eliminates possible leakage of liquids down and inside the front of the coat.
  7. The collar, which is lined with corduroy for longer wear, was raised to provide more protection to the neck.
Large pockets are evident in this specially designed turnout coat.

Closures tested

The Velcro closures work very well in both hot and cold weather. We tested their effectiveness in cold weather by pouring water on both surfaces of the closure area and then taking the coat outside to freeze. The closure held beautifully. The only changes we have thought of making is to have the Velcro end lower in the neck area and provide one snap fastener to allow the wearer to have his collar open without the Velcro scratching his chin. If the Velcro gives trouble at any time because of wear or inconvenience, we can always put on the standard D-ring fastener, but we do not think we will ever have to do so.

The coat we designed cost very little more than the standard coats we had been buying. However, if a larger number of coats were to be manufactured, I’m sure the cost of the individual coat would be lower.

The need for reform in protective gear is evident in other areas also. Most persons in the fire service review the lists of injuries to fire fighters published periodically. Foot injuries are high on the list. Modern technology and manufacturing practices could, without too much effort, be used in designing footwear for firemen that would give maximum protection. I have discussed footwear with a few salespeople and have received no cooperation from them as far as improving the boots presently available to us.

Boot changes proposed

My suggestion to use flexible steel mesh to cover not only the sole of the foot, protecting the foot from puncture wounds at any angle, not just through the sole. Also, some kind of hard rubber or flexible metal should be used to protect the foot from the shin to the steel toe from blows of falling objects. The steel toe, of course, would remain as it is. The boots should not be much heavier than the types presently available, but they should certainly give more protection to the wearer. If the demand for this type of boot were great enough, I’m sure manufacturers would experiment with designs and, like improved coats, the price would be reasonable.

Why manufacturers of protective gear seem to fail to provide design improvement is beyond me. Perhaps it is our fault for not letting them know our wants and needs. After all, they are in business to please us. I believe it is time the fire service demanded that manufacturers of protective clothing try new ideas. If everyone in the fire service works together, we can provide incentives to manufacturers to design better protective equipment.

For my part, I plan to keep plugging away in an attempt to get someone to listen to my ideas and either design the equipment or tell me it cannot be done. I sincerely welcome any assistance or suggestions from any other members of the fire service who are concerned with this problem. Let’s hear from you! You’ll only be helping yourself and the fire service in general.

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