Improving Safety and Health of Wildland Firefighters Through Personal Protective Clothing
Throughout most of the past decade wildland fires have dominated natural resource management issues. There appears to have been an increase in the prevalence of large scale wildland fires throughout the United States in recent years; a large scale fire event takes place every two-three years (USDA Forest Service, 2010). In fact, over the past 10 years there have been at least 60 fires over 100,000 acres in size in the Western United States (Peterson, 2011). An area of research focus that has been lacking in wildland fires is the human resource factor. It is important to direct attention to those in the heat of the battle, the wildland firefighters. During their assignments firefighters face a multitude of challenges and hazards in the field. Personal gear of firefighters must be designed for protection, comfort, fit, during a prolonged use. With
the limited amount of personal gear a firefighter can pack when deployed, soiled clothing is used repeatedly. Soiling through smoke, ash, perspiration, and, in some cases, fire retardant can eventually cause clothing to lose shape creating a poor fit. Under certain conditions soiled clothing may cause chafing and bruising of the skin. The effectiveness of protective clothing is dependent on numerous factors, including textile properties, clothing design and appropriate fit. Traditionally, wildland firefighter clothing was made from natural fibers, usually cotton, sometimes impregnated with flame retardants. Aramid fibers are considered superior to natural fibers because they absorb some of the heat upon melting when exposed to fire, lessening burns to the skin underneath. Garment design factors must be balanced with cost effectiveness both in terms of monetary and human resources. Basic
work in human factors related to protective clothing for wildland firefighters is required to develop the knowledge base. Once factors of issue for the firefighters have been identified through a needs assessment, materials and prototypes can be developed. Testing, design and redesign of protective clothing can then be undertaken to find the best possible solutions. The ultimate goal of the proposed project is to create and test prototypes of protective clothing and gear for wildland firefighters. The approach designed for this project is broadly divided into four major stages: (a) in-depth needs assessment, (b) materials research, (c) garment design development and testing, and (d) education and communication of results. Educational materials will be developed in regards to function and care of protective clothing for wildland firefighters. The results of the research conducted for this
project will also be made available through presentations at national/international meetings, through submissions to refereed and non-refereed publications, special technical publications, and the annual reports published through NIMSS website. The online database developed as a result of the project will provide information directly to wildland firefighters and their respective agencies.