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NFPA 1971
Garment Makers Comply With Protective Clothing Revisions

Most of the changes taking effect under the 2007 revision of NFPA Standard 1971 - Protective Ensemble for Structural Fire Fighting are not readily apparent to the naked eye. One of the major changes is simply a matter of consolidating two protective clothing standards into one.

The official name of the new standard is NFPA 1971, Standard on Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting. The separate standard for proximity gear - NFPA 1976 - no longer exists, said Pat Freeman, Technical Services Manager for Globe Manufacturing Company, LLC.

"The proximity standard really hasn't had any drastic change," Freeman said. "The big thing is that everything is now encompassed in NFPA 1971."

The standard specifies minimum requirements for the design, performance, testing, and certification of the elements of the protective ensemble including coats, trousers, helmets, gloves, footwear, and interface items for protection from the hazards of structural and proximity fire fighting operations.

NFPA standards undergo revision every five years to remain current with fire service needs. NFPA 1971 was originally scheduled to become effective in January 2006, but was delayed six months to produce the best document possible, a National Fire Protection Association spokesman stated.

Part of that revision was the decision to consolidate NFPA 1976 into NFPA 1971, said Freeman, a member of the NFPA 1971 Technical Committee.

"Instead of having two different standards there is now only one with requirements applicable to the appropriate ensemble," Freeman said.

DRAG RESCUE DEVICE

Perhaps the biggest visible change to bunker gear under the revised standard is the newly required drag rescue device. Also known as the DRD, the device is simply a strap with a handle near the collar to assist in retrieving fallen firefighters in an emergency.

"It absolutely shouldn't be confused with a harness or repelling device," Freeman said. "It is strictly intended as a means of removing a fallen firefighter."

In addition to the usual requirements for heat and flame resistance, the DRD requirement also includes strength testing, seam testing, a functionality test and a time to deploy test.

"Obviously, as with any NFPA requirement, they put requirements on the requirements," Freeman said.

CBRN

NFPA 1971 also sets the standard for protection against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear terrorist agents, although this protection is an optional requirement and not mandated in all bunker gear sold.

"What is meant by that is as a consumer if you wanted CBRN protection you can request it, but in order to lable a garment as having that kind of protection, then there are additional requirements that the garment has to meet," Freeman said.

Say a firefighter works in Pittsfield, N.H., where the threat of a terrorist attack is relatively low, she said. Since that degree of protection may not be necessary, the consumer would most likely not specify it - but they have a choice.

"It's a good thing because it gives firefighters the option if they want that protection, but it means all manufacturers are going to be held to the same standard in order to label the clothing as providing that level of protection," Freeman said.

This represents the first time that NFPA 1971 has allowed for optional protection rather than mandating full compliance. Many of the optional requirements for CBRN protection are a direct outgrowth of two federally funded projects to design better bunker gear - Project HEROES, involving the Total Fire Group as the manufacturer, and CB Ready, involving Globe as the manufacturer..

MINIMUM COLLAR HEIGHT

Slightly less prominent than the DRD but important all the same is a reduction in minimum collar height from 4 inches to 3 inches. This does not represent a reduction in protection, but rather is the result of the mandate that helmets and fire hoods be worn.

"If you look at the firefighter ensemble as a whole, which is the way the entire standards process is going right now, firefighters are mandated to wear hoods and helmets," Freeman said. "Often with 4-inch collars, particularly with people who have short necks, the collar would actually interfere with the way that a helmet could be worn correctly."

With helmet ear flaps and hoods to consider, changing the requirement is a good move, she said.

"We think it's going to make the whole ensemble work better together," Freeman said.

TOTAL HEAT LOSS

Total heat loss is a measurement of the heat and moisture that will pass through the layers of a garment. Breathable fabrics will allow perspiration to escape. Proposals were made to raise the total heat loss value from its 130 watts per meter squared as required in the 2000 version to as much as 250 w/m2.

The final decision was to raise the value to 205 w/m2.

HEAT RESISTANCE

Conductive Compressive Heat Resistance (CCHR) is a specific test performed on the shoulder and knees of bunker gear to insure that those areas provide the same level of protection when compressed as does the basic three layer garment.

A base rating is determined using a hot plate set at 280 degrees C (536 degrees F) under a pressure of ? psi, using a garment composite having the minimum thermal protective performance rating of 35. The CCHR rating is the time in seconds needed to achieve a temperature rise of 24 degrees C (75.2 degrees F). Shoulders are tested under 2 psi, which simulates a firefighter wearing an SCBA with a 40 pound fully loaded tank and a 2-inch side strap.

The knee section is tested at 8 psi, which has been established as the amount of force that a 180 pound firefighter would exert to the knee area when in the kneeling or crawling position. As with THL, the CCHR test is required to be run in both wet and dry conditions.

The 2007 edition of NFPA 1971 raises the required CCHR rating from 13.5 seconds to 25 seconds.

"By increasing that value you should see more padding in certain areas of the garment," Freeman said.

DURABILITY/WEAR LIFE

In addition to all other moisture barrier requirements, NFPA 1971 now requires that the barrier layer also be tested for resistance to light degradation, with a minimum water penetration resistance of 13.8 kPa (2 psi). This is a hydrostatic test done following a very severe UV exposure, which is performed only on the moisture barrier.

This new test method was heavily debated by the committee, since no outer shell could withstand the exposure, Freeman said. However, this test does serve as a discriminator of moisture barriers, resulting from years of study by the Durability Task Group.

Although the effective date for the new standard was August 17, 2006, manufacturers are given six months to complete their certification through third party testing.

"That means that manufacturers can ship as soon as their third party certification is complete, or, if their testing isn't completed, they have until March 1, 2007, to become compliant," Freeman said.

 
 

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