How the development of body armor has helped firefighters
The nature of protective clothing means that there are naturally similarities between different products. For example, there are a number of similarities between bullet proof and stab proof vests, including materials and design. This may seem obvious, but even Turnout Gear shares a number of similarities with bullet proof vests, beyond them both being used to protect an individual. Even their design and development follow similar paths due to the desired end result.
This seems obvious given that both are attempting to protect against a wide range of threats in difficult environments. Nevertheless, the crossover between the two areas is deeper than many realize.
The threats that Firefighters must face from day-to-day will differ greatly from the threats facing others who were body armor. However, many of the threats are very similar. For example, there are an alarming number of reports of Firefighters being targeted for violence and attacked, sometimes fatally. This is where body armor may be of use to Firefighters, but even in day-to-day work the development of body armor can and does influence the manufacture of turnout gear.
Of course the main threat that Turnout Gear is designed for is fire; more specifically, heat. Body armor, on the other hand, has to be able to stop bullets, knives, needles, and a variety of other weapons. As we will see, both items have the capability to deal with the threats the other is designed for, albeit far less effectively. The materials used in both bullet proof vests and turnout gear are largely the same, as both utilize plastic fabrics made of Aramids. These plastic fibers are strong, flexible, lightweight, and heat-resistant, making them ideal to be used for protective clothing of all types. The most common and well-known example of an Aramid fabric is Kevlar, which is synonymous with ballistic protection.
Kevlar is not only incredibly strong, but is lightweight and flexible. This is why it is so heavily favored in body armor manufacture. However, Aramids are also capable of withstanding extreme temperatures, and will not melt or degrade at temperatures of upto 800°F. This means that Kevlar has also found use in Turnout Gear, although Aramid manufacturers often look to provide materials with far higher heat resistance, usually at the expense of some ballistic protection. Nevertheless, Kevlar does find uses in Turnout Gear, offering some protection against impacts and blunt trauma. Some manufacturers offer blends of materials, for example a mixture of Kevlar and Nomex, another aramid material from DuPont that has a far higher resistance to heat. By producing a blend the material can offer the heat resistance needed by Firefighters while also decreasing friction and improving co-operation between the layers of Turnout Gear.
The introduction of materials like Kevlar not only improves protection, but also the overall performance and comfort of the gear. Making protective clothing more comfortable is usually an afterthought, and yet is incredibly important. If nothing else, body armor or Turnout Gear that is not comfortable is less likely to be worn. This is less of a problem for Firefighters, who simply have no choice in wearing their gear, but for Law Enforcement in particular this is a major problem, and many Officers have been killed while not wearing their vest. Improving the comfort of Turnout Gear should still be a high priority for manufacturers, particularly as it will help tackle some of the major problems that can occur in the line of duty. The main problem facing Firefighters is heat, as already noted, but the excessive build-up of moisture that it causes is just as serious. Excessive sweating alone can cause severe physical issues, such as exhaustion and cardiac arrest, but any build-up can also lead to very severe burns if the moisture is heated. Furthermore, if the air barrier in the Gear is compromised by the moisture, it can seriously degrade the protection it offers.
This is an important area of interest, and one in which body armor manufacturers can help improve Turnout Gear. There has been an increased focus in the body armor industry on improving the comfort of vests to help ensure it is worn. This has led to the development of new, thinner materials that allow for a thinner vest at the same protection, research into ergonomic design, and most importantly the inclusion of temperature-regulating materials. By including these materials a vest can actively reduce the temperature of the wearer by drawing moisture away from the bed, which would prove to be very useful for Firefighters. Furthermore, the combination of these breathable materials with fabrics like Kevlar allows for a better barrier to heat, whilst at the same time removing excess heat from the layers closest to the skin. This means that the layers of Turnout Gear could work together more efficiently, creating a far more comfortable and protective piece of equipment.
For more information, go to www.safeguardarmor.com