Friday, January 13, 2012


As you may or may not be aware, there has been a lot of attention brought to the face pieces that we wear recently.  There have been several close calls and LODDs that have resulted directly from a catastrophic failure of the facepiece the the firefighter was wearing while in an IDLH.   Now before you start throwing rocks, it has not been just one manufacturer, or one style of face piece.  There are documented failures across all brands.

If that doesn't scare you it should.  basically what they have found is that no face peice is immune from it, and there aren't really sure what heat is causing them to fail.  There are some additional studies going on right now about it, but the preliminary opinions that I have heard in various presentations are that our gear is too good.  Too good.....What the hell do you mean by that? you may ask.  I'm telling you, that the gear that is out there right now is far superior and safer to the canvas jackets and hip boots of old.  But if you ask an old head, how did you guys feel heat?  He would reply, well why don't you guess, you knew it was hot when your family jewels started to light up, then you knew it was time to go.  We don't have that luxury (not that is something I wish we had), so we wait until we feel heat through our gear, which much of the time never happens.  So then that heat attacks our whole ensembleand then the weakest link shows up, usually the facepiece.  Not exactly comforting, considering that if it fails we can't breath, not a good thing. 

In fact, in two of the four experiments that NIST conducted the facepieces failed, here is one of them:

and that happened at 536 Degrees as measured.  most of the gear we wear would shieldthis heat from our senses, thats for sure.All SCBA masks are subject to a test befoire they go on the street, but this study found that the testing isn't realistic in duration and heat flux that we (Engine Guys, because the ladder can't get hot on the roof)  experience at a working fire.

So you may ask is this article to scare you, make you go work in an office now, or quit volunteering......absolutely not.  The point of this article is to ensure that you don't feel that our gear will protect us from anything.  It is called an ensemble for a reason, because it must match together well.  Great pants and jacket and a pair of crappy gloves (Ask FDNY) don't make you safer.  proper specifications and matching of all components can make you safer but not invinsible.  Especially considering that since our very existence depends on breathing, and the mask is currently the weakest link.  Next time you go to "work" at a fire ensure you don't forget that basic skills can still save your life and recognition of deteriorating fire and structural conditions will do more to keepo you safe than any gear Globe, Fire Dex, or Janesville can make.  Gear doesn't make you invinsible, and you must train on how to use your gear in your department.  You need to figure out where it can and can't get you safely.  Gear will burn and facepieces will melt in the right conditions, so don't pout your self there. 

I will post a link to the NIST study on the facebook page, so if you want to read it, check it out there.  There will be more posts on this topic, so stay tuned.  In the meantime, stay safe and stay trained.


  1. What can firefighters do to ensure their departments are taking the proper steps in maintaining their equipment and having their departments equipped with the appropriate and safest gear available for them, within budget of course?

  2. Everyone needs to understand their limits on the fire ground. each department needs to address these concerns while specifying their ensemble.