Off-duty, you can find them in activewear. On-duty, firefighters are more focused than ever on the comfort level, looks, and design of their fire fighting suits. But how should this trend affect your PPE garment choices? Typically, the higher the comfort level, the lower the protection offered by a fire fighting suit. In this blog, we explore the clash between the two ends of this spectrum, in order to help your brigade find a solution that balances comfort and protection.
New standards in comfort
Historically, fire fighting suits have been bulky and heavy. Today’s firefighters expect their garments to be lightweight, breathable, soft on the skin and have good moisture absorption. What has led to this increased demand for more comfortable PPE?
The new generation of firefighters is more active, athletic, and health-conscious than ever before. They’re aware of the advantages provided by activewear in their personal life, and they expect the same level of ergonomics and good design in their uniforms. It’s not a surprise that modern fire suits look more like fitted motorcycle suits than the shapeless “potato sack” style garments of the past.
Comfort is a crucial requirement for protective clothing, as it ultimately impacts how safely the fire fighter suit is worn by the end user. It’s important to listen to your brigade’s wishes and expectations regarding comfort. If they experience their PPE as uncomfortable to wear, they may not wear it correctly — which compromises the protection it offers.
Comfort vs. protection: finding a balance
As the trend moves toward prioritising comfort, where does that leave protection? For instance, should a firefighter expect the same level of comfort from their fire suit, which is a complex piece of equipment, that they experience running in a sleeveless t-shirt? There are obvious limitations imposed by the level of protection required for the hazard they are confronting, but our aim should always be to replicate that sensation as much as possible.
Finding the balance between comfort and protection also requires taking firefighters’ diverse work activities into consideration. More than 90% of the time, firefighters do not work near or directly in fire. Even at the scene of a fire, a brigade will mostly confine the area affected by the fire from outside: they seldom enter it. Developed for structural fire incidents, a traditional fire fighting suit is too heavy and cumbersome for the majority of a firefighter’s work activities. It can even lead to heat stroke or a heart attack in challenging physical situations. In these cases, firefighters find their PPE hindering them instead of helping them to safely do their work.
That’s why we recommend carrying out periodic risk assessments which take your specific work environment into account. A wear trial is equally important, as it allows your brigade to provide feedback, ensuring your firefighters are both equipped and at ease in their fire fighting suits.
The best of both worlds
As the new generation of firefighters takes the stage, we can learn from their preferences to create lightweight, comfortable, and ergonomic protective garments — which also offer the highest levels of protection when it comes to thermal insulation.
At TenCate Protective Fabrics, we’re committed to bridging the gap between comfort and protection for the fire brigades we serve. Experience has taught us that we develop the most innovative protective fabrics when we take your needs as our starting point. That’s why relevance for end users is always the main driver of our innovation, combined with our many years of industry expertise.
Curious which concrete steps you can take to provide your brigade with more comfortable PPE garments? Don’t hesitate to make an appointment with one of our Fire Service experts; they’re happy to help you select the best solution for your firefighters.