We now live in a synthetic dominated world where we have been persuaded into believing that man-made fibres for clothing are superior to natural fibres for work wear. We have forgotten the complexity and versatility of wool as nature’s performance fibre in providing the essentials in clothing that we need for survival.
The wool textile industry has changed dramatically over the past thirty years following investment and innovations that have taken place at every stage of the value chain. This quiet transformation of the industry has been most dramatic where wool producers and scientists have used selective breeding of merino sheep (a sheep breed prized for its fine fibre) to grow wool as fine as 11.0 mu, that is even finer than cashmere. These fibres are genetically strong and are the essential building blocks for producing superfine fabrics with softness, strength and easy care properties suitable for functional multipurpose garments.
The other significant area of advancement has been in the development of new manufacturing technologies for the processing of these super-fine fine wool fibres. New equipment at the spinning and knitting stages is converting the super-fine wool fibres into innovative wool fabrics that would not have been possible even ten years ago. Compact yarns converted into technical knit structures have created some of the most advanced multi-attribute fabrics in the world today, far superior to any of their synthetic alternatives, offering the user a broad range of benefits. But now, with an improved user experience, it is no longer itchy, scratchy and hard to care for.
Most importantly this super-fine merino wool, when worn next-to-skin, will enhance the protection, performance and comfort of fire and rescue personnel operating in high risk environments.
Heat & Flames
Have you seen the skin injuries incurred from synthetic garments melting into the skin? The hi-tech wicking t-shirts popularised by sportswear brands are injurious and potentially life threatening for anyone involved in the fire and rescue service. A small flame or a burst of heat is all it takes to turn these garments into molten plastic that burns into the skin. Nylon melts at only 160°C and burns robustly at 485°C. In contrast merino wool does not melt, drip or stick to the skin and has natural fire resistant properties up to 600°C.
By issuing a merino base layer you are providing an extra layer of protection for the firefighter against both heat and flames. By issuing long sleeve merino garments you can reduce the discomfort of sweaty inner elbows because of the way merino handles moisture and reduces the potential for lower arm burns that can come from wearing short sleeves.
Heat & Moisture
At some stage, all fire service personnel experience excessive moisture loss and heat exhaustion. Wicking fabrics made from synthetics have limitations for firefighters as wicking garments only work if properly layered, allowing for the moisture and heat to escape if it can be released into the environment. Synthetic fibres do not actively manage the moisture from perspiration (absorb and release) but rely on evaporation to move excess moisture away from the skin. When worn as part of a multi-layered system, the evaporation process no longer takes place, leading to moisture and heat build-up within the firefighter’s PPE. The build-up of perspiration around the body also increases the propensity for steam burns from your own sweat. This single reason should be a major concern for any fire service issuing synthetic base layers.
Merino wool works quite differently to cotton or synthetics. The outer cuticle of the merino wool fibre is hydrophobic (repels moisture) while the inside is hydrophilic (absorbs moisture). Wool actively manages moisture in both a liquid and vapour state through its natural chemical structure, allowing merino wool to absorb up to 35 percent of its weight as moisture without feeling wet, and then releasing the moisture back into the environment. A layer of merino knit worn next-to-skin will improve the feeling of comfort and helps towards maintaining a more stable core body temperature in high sweat environments because of its inherent ability to moisture manage and thermo regulate thereby reducing the potential for steam burns.
Cold & Wet
Search and rescue call outs can happen on the coldest, wettest days, and the sweat/chill cycle has to be managed when working for extended hours in a cold or wet environment. The skin is your body’s thermometer and greatly influences your operational effectiveness. All firefighters have experienced the discomfort of being unbearably cold, but you do not need to feel that level of discomfort as merino can help expand that buffer zone of comfort.
It is known that cotton can kill in cold wet condition because the moist fabric draws heat away from the body and in time lowers the core body temperature. Synthetic garments may initially increase the skin temperature from reflective heat providing a warming sensation but as the fabrics do not thermoregulate, the body starts to overheat increasing the rate of perspiration. In a firefighter’s layered ensemble this sweated moisture cannot move away from the body because it needs to evaporate, so it condensates and becomes cold next to skin, which in turn speeds up body chilling, leading to user discomfort.
Merino fibre works differently and more effectively. Merino manages to keep operators warm even when wet by moving moisture away from the skin, working to keep the skin dry and at a more constant temperature. The merino fibre actively manages sweat by absorbing and releasing moisture with the inherent ability to hold up to 35 percent of its weight without feeling wet. This is due to the natural fibre structure of the merino follicle, which acts like a tree with its water repellent cuticle on the outside and its hydrophilic interior transporting the moisture away from the skin to be released into the less humid environment.
Sweat & Ease of Care
Fire and rescue personnel accept that sweat and odour is part of the job. Your expectation will be to use a number of shirts that are changed to overcome odour issues . . . but sweat does not smell. Our bodies smell because micro-bacteria feed off the body salts and the moisture we perspire. You could wear a merino garment 24/7 and not produce odour. Merino naturally absorbs sweat and through natural processes prevents the build-up of offensive odours.
Merino fibre does not hold a static charge, so it can be safely worn in areas where a static discharge could be dangerous, such as around spilt fuel or where there is a risk of an electrical flash over.
Merino – Nature’s Performance Fibre
Merino wool is remarkable for each of these attributes but even more so for the sum of these unique properties, which when knitted into specialist performance garments greatly enhances the protection, performance and comfort of any firefighters operating in high risk environments. But what makes merino wool?
Every year the merino sheep being farmed in New Zealand produce a new fleece weighing approximately four kilograms. The soft merino fibre is harvested annually in the spring months to produce garments that can be worn next-to-skin from head to toe. These merino fabrics and garments are easy-care providing the convenience of machine washability up to 40°C. Merino does not retain odours or dirt, so it can be washed clean in low temperatures and without the need of odour-masking detergents. Line drying is the best way of extending the life of these fast drying, lightweight fabrics.
Garments have a natural wear life, so we have the issue of garment disposal particularly as we deal with growing landfills and the guilt of disposing garments made from non-renewal materials knowing that they will take decades to breakdown. Merino fibres are produced from keratin, the same naturally-produced protein that is the building block for our hair and nails. So when the time has come to discard your merino garment, bury it in the garden. Once the merino comes into contact with soil borne bacteria it breaks down and is absorbed into the soil within nine to 12 months. The cycle is complete.
In summary merino base-layer can enhance the protection, performance and comfort of fire and rescue teams by:
- Having natural flame resistance up to 600°C.
- Not melting, shrinking or sticking to skin when exposed to flames or high temperatures.
- Not producing toxic odours when burning.
- Having the highest natural UVP factor against other fibres for added protection from the sun.
- Having a high resistance to acids.
- Offering greater resistance to chemical residues and aerosols than synthetics.
- Thermoregulation of the skin, reducing overheating or chilling.
- Moisture managing the skin – reducing the rate of moisture lost in exercise and incidence of skin infections.
- Being naturally antibacterial – will not infect wounds.
- Not generating offensive odour even after prolonged use.
- Being soft yet incredibly strong and durable.
- Being annually renewable and are biodegradable.
- Being easy care – being machine washable and quick drying.
For more information, go to www.armadillomerino.com