Blog by Brian Ward
Chief of Emergency Operations, Training Director for Georgia Pacific

How much do you know about your Personal Protective Equipment, specifically, your bunker gear? How well can you perform your job duties wearing the gear you have?

Understanding the basics of PPE and training in our gear are some key principles that will help us stay safe. The more information we know about how gear is properly put together, the safer we will be.

Several topics should be discussed when considering different types of gear. What may be good for one department in the northern part of the country may not be suitable for another department in the southern part or on the coast. It is important to point out that each of these topics is not mutually exclusive they all have an impact on each other:

>> Total Heat Loss is basically the breathability of gear. The higher the numerics, the better the firefighter’s body heat will dissipate. This could lead to cooling the core temperature of a firefighter and preventing such situations as heat stroke and over-exertion. According to NFPA 1971, a minimum of 205 watts per square meter must be met.

>> Thermal Protective Performance (TPP) represents how much conductive and radiant heat the gear will shield from a firefighter through all layers of the ensemble. At first thought, the higher the TPP rating, the better off a firefighter would be, however, this is not only false but also dangerous. As the TPP rating is increased, firefighters might be inclined to proceed further and envelop themselves in elevated temperatures where they should not be. In addition, the higher the TPP rating the lower the THL will be. It’s a trade-off.

>> CCHR was incorporated into the testing procedure as a method of examining the shoulder and knee areas of our PPE. This test is conducted with wet and dry gear at a starting temperature of 536 degrees, as a method of comparing the insulation provided by the PPE when it comes in contact with hot surfaces. According to NFPA 1971, it should take 25 seconds for the temperature of the opposite side of the gear to rise 43 degrees.

As you review gear, look at surrounding departments and examine the specifications they are using. Remember, there is no one perfect set of gear for every department. Choose the gear with the right combination for your department. In addition, no matter what gear you have, understand how it operates and know its limitations. Anyone can tie a knot, but can everyone tie a knot with gloves on, and correctly?

The only way to know these limits is to train and train often in a multitude of situations. Training for familiarization and in realistic environments will assist in developing these necessary skills.

Try this drill: Have a firefighter bunker out (pants and boots only) and blackout their SCBA mask. Take the remaining parts and spread them throughout the station in areas where they could obtain them by performing a primary search of the structure. Place the items so that the firefighters have to build their ensemble as they complete the search. This drill is simple, non-hazardous, and will assist in familiarization with their equipment. In the end the firefighter should be breathing air and dressed as if they were entering a burning building. Make sure that the gloves are the first item they come to and that everything is completed without the removal of their mask.

Train hard, take care and be safe.

About the Author
Brian Ward is chief of emergency operations and training director for Georgia Pacific in Madison (Ga.). He is a past training officer for Gwinnett County (Ga.), chairman of the Metro Atlanta Training Officers and currently serves on the Honeywell Advisory Council.