Project HEROES' Fire Fighters WMD-Protective Equipment Prototype Receives Positive Evaluation

A Department of Homeland Security-funded program aimed at developing a new generation of improved protective clothing for fire fighters, has marked a key milestone with the successful evaluation of its prototype Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

The federal government contract supported the International Association of Fire Fighters' (IAFF) Project HEROES (Homeland Emergency Response Operational and Equipment Systems) and gave the IAFF and its project team the mission to rapidly develop, prototype and field structural fire-fighting gear that provides improved chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) protection without sacrificing thermal protection, comfort and functionality.

The IAFF teamed with a project group composed of leading fire service organizations and major academic institutions, including:

  • International Association of Fire Chiefs
  • International Personnel Protection
  • National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health's National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory
  • Total Fire Group/ Morning Pride Mfg.
  • University of Arkansas
  • University of Massachusetts

The goal was to mount a design and development effort that would result in enhanced personal protective equipment (PPE) that would foster user acceptability by following the look and function of current structural fire fighting gear while keeping the additional CBRN protection passive, so that nothing other then donning the gear would be necessary.

"Fire fighters currently do not wear structural fire fighting PPE that can protect them in an environment where there has been a release of CBRN agents," explained Bill Grilliot, who is CEO for Total Fire Group and a volunteer fire fighter. "Yet, at every response, the fire conditions being faced may also include exposure to chemical and biological agents that may be part of the release."

Five fire fighters from the Fairfax, Va. Fire and Rescue Department - representing different body types, genders and ages - were put through its Training Academy's Work Performance Evaluative (WPE) protocol while wearing the new, more protective Project HEROES ensemble. The department uses the WPE to measure an individual's ability to perform essential fire-fighting functions within a timed period. The result: Each of the fire fighters volunteered for further evaluation and gave a "thumbs-up" for the Project HEROES ensemble over their current gear.

The results were "extremely successful," said Rich Duffy, director, Occupational Health, Safety and Medicine for IAFF.

"These positive results certainly validate the commitment to our Project HEROES initiative made by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies," continued Duffy.

The results of the testing of the Project HEROES prototype ensemble - which included normal fire fighting activities, such as ladder carries, forcible entry work, high-rise pack carries, pike pole activities, equipment carries and victim recovery simulations – "clearly demonstrated that this initial set of personal protective gear is well on its way to meeting our ambitious goals," declared Jeff Stull, president of International Personnel Protection, Inc. For example:

  • All the fire fighters completed the WPE protocol without any hindrance or restrictions in the allotted time, "impressive, given the fact that they were all able to deliver the same type of performance while wearing the additional protection," said Duffy.
  • The field testers reported feeling drier than normal after the test.
  • The field testers also reported that the integrated boots and pants (to prevent inward leakage of CBRN agents at this interface area and to help eliminate scalding liquid/hot air flow up the leg) was easy to don, easy to work in and comfortable to wear.
  • The five Fairfax Fire and Rescue fire fighters reported better or comparable weight, comfort, flexibility and mobility of the Project HEROES ensemble as compared to their current gear without CBRN protection.

Another Project HEROES development effort is moving forward with Man In Simulant Testing (MIST), which will assess the CBRN protective properties of the new protective ensemble compared to normal fire fighting protective clothing. Market introduction is slated for mid-2006.

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