Assessing the Cardiovascular and Chemical Risks Faced by Firefighters

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article Summarizes Impact of Repeated Smoke Exposures and Cleaning Techniques on Firefighting PPE

August 3, 2020

industrial washer and dryer

The U.S. fire service has become acutely aware of the need to clean PPE after fires. However, there is concern that damage from repeated cleaning may impact critical protection on the fireground risk. The Impact of Repeated Exposure and Cleaning on Protective Properties of Structural Firefighting Turnout Gear peer-reviewed, archival journal article summarizes the impact of repeated smoke exposures from household combustibles followed by different cleaning techniques (laundering, wet decontamination, dry decontamination) on critical performance characteristics of NFPA 1971 Standard on Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting compliant PPE. 

Using mannequins and a controlled Fireground Exposure Simulator (FES) prop that was designed to simulate fireground thermal and chemical environments, PPE was exposed to up to 40 cycles of smoke and heat followed by cleaning (exposure and cleaning). Specimens were collected from consistent locations on each coat after 10, 20 and 40 cycles of exposure/cleaning (Figure 1). NFPA 1971 standard tests related to mechanical, thermal and penetration properties were conducted on these samples and compared to new control samples, and samples that were only laundered (i.e. no exposures).

firefighter turnout coat with call out boxes showing various exposures based on samples taken

Figure 1. Shell specimen locations harvested from the back of the jacket for TPP, Tear Strength and Seam Strength.


The results of this study showed that several important protective properties of turnout gear are significantly changed after repeated (between 0 and 40 cycles) simulated fireground exposures followed by cleaning (laundering, decontamination) or laundering alone. For example, repeated laundering drastically reduced tear strength of the outer shell compared to the new samples and more so than decontamination treatments (Figure 2).


graph showing outer shell tear strength vs. tear resistance strength

Figure 2. Outer shell tear strength (from samples collected in the “fill direction” of the fabric) for each exposure and cleaning condition, up to 40 cycles.  See full manuscript for details of this plot.

This manuscript is derived from the UL Firefighter Safety Research Institute (FSRI) PPE Cleaning study, a component of the larger Cardiovascular & Chemical Exposure Risks in Today’s Fire Service project.

UL FSRI partnered with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Globe fire suits (now MSA), and the Illinois Fire Service Institute (IFSI) to conduct this research. Funding for this project was provided by the Department of Homeland Security Fire Prevention and Safety Grant #EMW-2015-FP-00646.