3M: New FHWA Visibility Regulations Should Include NFPA Turnout Gear

Fire service members have until July 31 to comment on the possibility of including NFPA-compliant rig gear in the U.S. Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) 2009 Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), which will contain revised worker visibility regulations.

The pending FHWA regulations take effect Nov. 24, 2008, and require the use of ANSI/ISEA 107 Class 2 or 3 compliant high-visibility garments for all workers operating within the right-of-way federal-aid highways and, eventually, all public access roads.

But according to 3M, a manufacturer of NFPA-compliant turnout gear, these regulations could have an impact on firefighters because ANSI vests are not NFPA 1971 heat- and flame-resistant and are not compatible with some of the risks in their work environment.

In his comments regarding the new standards and the required ANSI-compliant garments, Mike Koskey, department safety officer at the Springfield Illinois Fire Department, wrote: “Some of the issues we have with the vests are that they will create one more piece of material for the fire fighter to have to work around at extrication scenes; the fact that they are not fire proof and on top of our rig gear, and at a vehicle fire, it would appear they should be worn over an SCBA in order to be compliant with the law, creating sizing issues and a fire hazard.”

UMTRI Study

An April 2008 study completed by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) shows that the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1971 turnout gear can be just as effective at providing high visibility as the ANSI 107 Class 2 or 207 garments.

The study compared the distance at which a garment wearer could be detected by a driver in a visual test during the day and at night. Four different types of garments were examined in simulated emergency scenes: an ANSI 107-2004 Class 2 vest, an ANSI 207-2006 vest, and two types of NFPA 1971-2007 turnout coats.

The study found that the three categories of garments provided indistinguishable levels of conspicuity under the conditions examined. Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that NFPA 1971-2007 turnout gear and ANSI-ISEA 207-2006 vests should be considered performance-equivalent relative to compliance with the FHWA rule.

“The UMTRI report provides compelling scientific insight into the effectiveness of three different types of high-visibility garment options for first responders,” said Jean Waller, market development manager, 3M Visibility and Insulation Solutions. “We believe it is important that the 2009 Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) incorporate turn out gear as a viable primary apparel option.”

Fire service members may submit comments regarding this issue to FHWA by July 31, 2008. To enter a comment, log onto http://www.regulations.gov and enter docket number FHWA-2007-28977.

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