The program is part of the IAFF's "Project HEROES" (Homeland Emergency Response Operational and Equipment Systems) initiative. Fire fighters currently do not wear structural fire fighting PPE that can protect them in an environment where there has been a release of chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear agents.
"Fire departments do not have the resources to provide multiple garments for each responder, so one multi-purpose suit will offer the best way for fire fighters to ensure they're protected against any hazard," says Harold Schaitberger, general president of the IAFF. "The Project HEROES prototype will be revolutionary because it will offer the highest level of protection without the burden of extra weight, loss of mobility and added stress, so our fire fighters can do their job."
The IAFF has created a project team consisting of representatives from the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC); Total Fire Group/Morning Pride Manufacturing, a leading fire service ensemble manufacturer; the National Personal Protection Technology Laboratory of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH); International Personnel Protection; and two academic partners, the University of Massachusetts and the University of Arkansas.
The IAFF project team is pursuing a two-track development, which will involve the selection of ensemble materials for the garments, gloves, footwear and hood, combined with the design of ensemble element interfaces to afford protection consistent with current protective clothing standards. The short-term track involves identifying and selecting available materials to optimize a composite with barrier material that provides thermal, physical and chemical performance.
Ensemble elements are being designed at key interface areas to minimize the inward leakage of harmful contaminants. Prototype ensemble designs will undergo extensive laboratory testing to validate the overall product performance and the impact of the ensemble of wearer human factors. An iterative process of design changes will be made to result in a specification and the construction of several prototypes. These prototypes will be evaluated in major metropolitan fire departments for functional evaluations and user acceptance. At the end of this contract term, complete specifications for a field-ready fire fighting protective ensemble will be developed.
Throughout the project, the IAFF project team will promote user acceptability of the new PPE through demonstrations and the involvement of end users. The goal is create certified protective clothing that is as indistinguishable as possible from current structural fire fighting gear, but still offers improved chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear protections, without sacrificing thermal protection, comfort and functionality.