Why Structural Firefighters Need Wildland PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) Too
Everyday firefighters selflessly work in varied and complex environments that increase their risk of injury and death. Each year the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) releases studies conducted for the previous year to aid in prevention of firefighter loss of life. They meticulously report on firefighter deaths and injuries to provide national statistics on their frequency, extent, and characteristics. Earlier this year, the NFPA reported that there were 69 firefighter fatalities and 62,085 firefighter injuries while on duty in 2016. Of the 69 firefighters who died while on duty in 2016, 39 were volunteer firefighters, 19 were career firefighters, and eight were employees of federal land management agencies. An important part of the yearly study centers around developing a better understanding of how these fatalities and nonfatal injuries can assist in identifying corrective actions which could help minimize the inherent risks of firefighter work. One method of data collection utilized by the NFPA is reviewing standardized incident forms. These documents are sent to the fire departments involved in an incident requesting information on the type of protective equipment worn, the ages and ranks of the firefighters injured, and a description of circumstances that led to injury. A recurring reason cited within the data as one of the factors leading to injury or death was the incorrect use of or absence of personal protective equipment (PPE) worn by the firefighter. PPE designed for the correct task and firefighting ground offers the crew member the ability to perform the job while reducing the risk of injury or loss of life.
Structural Firefighters Are Helping Wildland Firefighters Suppress Large Wildfires More Frequently
As wildland fires become more prevalent in areas throughout the United States, structural fire departments need to ensure that they’re equipped for this type of fire before it is encountered. During the recent ‘mega fires’ in California, firefighters from all over the country were directed to assist with the fire. As experts predict these massive wildland fires will be the new norm, structural firefighters must educate themselves as to how to fight them. The NFPA Standard 1977: Standard on Protective Clothing and Equipment for Wildland Fire Fighting, addresses firefighters’ proper use of PPE during wildland firefighting operations. The NFPA 1977 may highlight what many departments not familiar with wildland fire have realized. The departments lacked the necessary wildland fire apparatuses, equipment, or even a checklist as to what was required to effectively fight wildland fires. In fact, many departments didn’t even consider adding wildland fire equipment to their fire budget until a fire broke out in their district.
Types of PPE That Should Be Used in Wildland Firefighting
A fundamental difference in the two types of fires, wildland and structure, can be seen in even something as simple as PPE. Structural firefighting PPE is designed to protect the firefighter from immense heat generated from fires burning within enclosed areas, as well as protect them from threats of falling man made objects and structures. In wildland firefighting operations, the firefighter must have more mobility as they are required to spend long hours on their feet in open fields or forests under hot weather conditions and must be agile enough to fend off fires that quickly change directions due to strong winds. Structure firefighting turnouts would prove disastrous and unusable in wildland firefighting situations for these reasons. Below are some essential items described in the NFPA 1977 that will help to protect the firefighter and ultimately the community from a wildland fire threat.
- Head Protection
- Wildland firefighting helmets provide protection from mechanical hazards, like falling trees, limbs and rolling rocks, while providing the mobility necessary to move throughout the wildland interface.
- Face, Eye, & Neck protection
- Face and neck shrouds for wildland firefighting provide a barrier between the heat and elements and the firefighter. Shrouds offer a better way to beat the heat while still providing adequate heat deflection and inflamed airborne debris.
- Wildland firefighting goggles and safety glasses provide protection from the smoke, debris, and embers present in fire operations.
- Body protection
- The NFPA outlines that torso protection is designed to improve the safety of the wildland firefighter and to mitigate adverse environmental effects to the fire fighter’s body.
- The standard makes a differentiation between two types of firefighting PPE for efforts by outlining that the activities of fire suppression in forest, brush, grass, ground cover, and other such vegetation that is not within structures but that is involved in fire.
- Gloves used should be designed to protect your hands against blisters, cuts, scratches and minor burns during routine firefighting.
- Boots are one of the most important part of a wildland firefighter’s PPE. Particularly because typically the response areas include steep and rocky terrain. The fire boots must be a minimum of 8 inches high, leather lace-type and equipped with skid-resistant soles. Note that steel toe boots are not authorized in wildland firefighting.
- Fire Shelter
- A Fire shelter is the last resort and thus one of the most essential pieces of equipment in the wildland firefighter’s PPE. The aluminized tent-like shelter is the only piece of equipment that offers lifesaving protection in the event of an impending entrapment. When experiencing a burn over, the fire shelter offers more breathable air, and thereby protect the lungs and airways from flames and hot gases.
- Firefighting Packs
- Wildland firefighting routinely requires crews to spend long hours far away from the conveniences of an apparatus or firehouse. This requires that firefighters be self-sufficient and able to deploy at a moment’s notice. Firefighting packs should be sufficient in size to carry a fire shelter, drinking water, gloves, a headlamp, a compass, topographical maps, and food to remain mission ready.
Obtaining the proper training and equipment first requires forethought, planning and a basic list of what your department needs. As wildland fires continue to spread in areas once thought inflammable, all fire departments should conduct a needs assessment and risk analysis as it pertains to the threat of wildland fire. Fortunately, the NFPA Standard 1977 will provide the guidance each department needs to protect their firefighters and preserve civilian life.
Contact BME Firefighter Supply For All of Your Wildland PPE Needs
At Boise Mobile Equipment, we specialize in providing state-of-the-art equipment and tools to wildland firefighters. Not only do we manufacture wildland fire trucks for various fire departments and land management organizations including CAL FIRE and the USDA Forest Service, we also offer firefighting supplies and personal protective equipment. This includes turnouts, bunker boots, helmets, face masks, goggles, radios, flashlights, fire axes, accessories and much more. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 800-727-9972.
Fahy, Leblanc, Molis: National Fire Protection Association (2017). Firefighter Fatalities in the United States-2016 Quincy, Massachusetts : National Fire Protection Association
“Structural Firefighters Need Wildland Firefighting PPE, Too.” FireRescue1, 7 Nov. 2017, www.firerescue1.com/wildland/articles/359529018-Structural-firefighters-need-wildland-firefighting-PPE-too/