When firefighters of Lübeck Fire and Rescue Service in Germany are deployed, ensuring their safety is the top priority. Since autumn 2013, the protective clothing worn by its 1,000 firefighters has been providing even higher performance protection following an extensive review which led to the selection of new garments containing the DuPont™ Nomex® fibre.
The Lübeck Fire and Rescue Service responds to around 3,000 emergency calls each year. Apart from fire prevention, providing assistance and undertaking rescue operations, as well as civil protection and disaster prevention, are also part of their responsibilities. The brigade is not only active on dry land: the fire-fighting boat “Senator Emil Peters” takes the firefighters to deployments across the entire Lübeck harbour area. Whether on land or water – one thing is common to all operations: the firefighters’ safety is the top priority.
To guarantee the protection of the deployed men and women, their equipment plays a particularly important role. Klaus Diederichs, Head of Equipment and Protective Systems Technology at Lübeck Fire and Rescue Service explains: “each of our firefighters has two personal protective suits. We had already updated one of the suits that was purchased in the early nineties, in 2005 and the time had come to replace the second, providing our firefighters with even better protection and, above all, greater comfort.”
Searching for the right material
The Lübeck Fire and Rescue Service did not want to rely on a solution just because it was familiar to the firefighters so they undertook practical testing. The fire brigade tried two different protective suits from the clothing manufacturer Viking. One was made from an outer fabric with high para-aramid content and the other from UK manufacturer Hainsworth® Titan, a special fabric consisting of DuPont™ Nomex® and DuPont™ Kevlar® fibres. Both were put to the test in the field by professional firefighters. All key fire safety aspects were scrutinised in both garments in addition to the wash resistance of the outer fabrics. This proved a decisive factor as, whilst the material with a high para-aramid content had started to fade after five washes, the appearance of the material made from Hainsworth® Titan incorporating DuPont™ Nomex® fibres was almost unchanged.
Based on these experiences, the Lübeck Fire and Rescue Service decided in favour of the Viking protective suits with DuPont™ Nomex® outer fabric. These not only provide excellent heat and flame resistance, high chemical resistance and good heat stress management, but also feature excellent wearer comfort, extreme abrasion resistance and high colour fastness after multiple washes. Underneath the outer fabric is a second layer made from a GORE-TEX® AIRLOCK® membrane, which integrates a moisture barrier, insulation with an airlock and a thermal inner lining. “This construction makes the protective suits extremely light and breathable, providing firefighters with a higher level of thermal protection and significantly reducing the risk of heat stress,” explains Marko de Klein, Viking Sales Manager for Fire and Emergency Services Protective Clothing in Germany.
Apart from the choice of material, the cut and construction of the protective clothing were also taken into consideration. “We drew on the results of a comprehensive wearing test that we carried out before procuring the new outfits in 2005,” says Diederichs. Since these suits had been in use for some years, the idea was to make some additional improvements for 2013. In particular the mobility of the new suit was to be optimized compared to the previous model. Diederichs explains: “Our previous jackets were still cut in accordance with HuPF regulations (manufacturing and test description for universal fire services protective clothing). However, the long jackets were a hindrance, in particular when climbing ladders or crawling so we decided in favour of a shorter jacket in combination with dungarees”.
There is no second chance when it comes to safety
One change that is immediately obvious is the new sand colour of the uniforms which were previously dark blue. The benefits of this new colour include improved visibility in darkness and the ability to see contamination more clearly. At the same time, the fibre of the outer fabric has been treated to prevent the penetration of moisture and provides additional protection against dirt. A re-impregnation is only necessary after 30 washes, which also has a positive effect on breathability.
“It doesn’t matter which specific requirements or preferences individual fire and rescue service have when choosing their protective clothing – the benchmark must always be the safety of the wearer”, explains de Klein. “A pocket in the wrong place can always be altered. However, insufficient protection is unforgivable. There is no second chance.”