Heat Stress & Suit Weight for Firefighters is a serious issue facing firefighters across the globe.
The first step towards finding a solution to the problem of heat stress is understanding what heat stress is and how it affects firefighters. This problem is much more than the office thermostat being set to the wrong temperature (It’s too hot Karen, turn the thermostat down!). In extreme cases heat stress can be fatal.
The human body is designed to function within a very specific temperature range, between 36.5 and 37.5 Celsius is ideal, just one degree. Luckily, we have ways to regulate our temperature: if we’re too cold we shiver to heat our muscles, too hot and we sweat. Sweat helps our body cool down by giving the heat a route to escape. Beads of sweat fill with heat energy before turning to vapour and taking the heat with away. For sweat to work most effectively the air around you will be windy, cold and dry. Humidity would mean that there is less room for vapour to leave your body (if you’ve ever been to Florida you’ll understand).
“What actually is heat stress?” we hear you ask. Well, if your body is no longer able to regulate your core temperature you will begin to overheat which can have catastrophic consequences. Not only does heat stress reduce a person’s ability to concentrate (really important for firefighters in life and death situations!), it can cause fatigue, confusion, convulsions and will eventually mean losing consciousness.
As we mentioned, sweating is the best way to get heat out of the body and it works best in dry, cold and windy conditions. So, as you can imagine, an enclosed and insulated suit may not promote the perfect perspiration environment. Insulation is an important part of any firekit because it keeps all that extreme heat away from the wearer, unfortunately it also keeps all the body heat in. Firefighters work hard, really hard, it’s an extremely physical job which means they create a lot of body heat. The challenge is finding a way to get the heat out of the suit without letting heat from the outside, in. For this we use something called a moisture barrier made by Stedfast. A moisture barrier is a clever bit of material which lets vapour through but not liquid, making the suit breathable and allowing the wearer to sweat away the heat, all without letting water, harmful chemicals or pathogens in!
FlamePro want to push boundaries in every layer of a firekit, that’s why our relationship with Stedfast is so invaluable. Not only do they have brilliant laminating capabilities and fantastic membrane technologies, they always impress with their delivery times. FlamePro still have the best lead times in the industry and companies like Stedfast help us achieve that.
Firefighting is a physically demanding job at the best of times, add to that a heavy protective suit and things get even harder. Firefighting PPE is specially designed to protect from flames, heat, harmful chemicals and rough or sharp terrain. Finding a way to balance suit-capability with suit-weight has long been a challenge for garment manufactures and it’s easy to see why it’s such a challenge:
Want to increase heat resistance? Increase the thermal insulation – increases weight.
Want to increase strength? Make the outer layer thicker – increases weight.
At FlamePro we work very hard to reduce the weight of our suits without sacrificing important protection. PBO is the strongest and lightest outer shell material on the market today so FlamePro use and promote PBO at every opportunity. We also look at heat protection from an analytical point of view.
All too often heat protection has been given too much weight (pardon the pun) in the suit designing process. We make sure there is plenty of heat resistance but make sure that we track the overall weight and breathability as important aspect too. After all, someone needs to carry that suit around with them while saving lives, better to take some weight off their shoulders.
For more information visit FlamePro