International Case Study on Lightweight Structural Firefighters Suits

In 2012 we were approached by a client to provide structural firefighter’s suits made from lightweight, fire retardant fabric, using PBO fibre from Toyobo, Japan and woven by TenCate BV in the Netherlands. The client required clothing that was extremely robust, could withstand exposure to extreme conditions of use but would also be able to offer comfortable protection in hot climates. The resultant structural firefighter’s suits were constructed of Millenia Light™ using 3 layers comprising a 180g/m² PBO outer shell, a Tecashield® 3-dimensional spun lace thermal layer with an ePTFE waterproof, breathable moisture barrier and a Tecashield® inner layer made from a combination of filament and spun meta-aramid yarns, the latter creating a slick surface to provide the wearer with excellent ease of movement.

These structural firefighter’s suits were subsequently used by a team of ten firefighters in a rigorous programme of air drops from a helicopter over an extended period. None of the garments suffered any damage to the outer shell and the complete ensembles retained all their protective qualities. As a result of this experience Millenia Light™ structural firefighter’s suits subsequently went into service in Iraq, Mauretania, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

subjected the firefighter’s clothing to controlled wearer trials

To substantiate the claims that Millenia Light™ structural firefighter’s suits provide greater levels of comfort than that of heavier weight suits, Shropshire Fire & Rescue Service in the UK subjected the firefighter’s clothing to controlled wearer trials conducted by the University of Leeds, School of Textiles. Five firefighters of different ages undertook a series of exercises on a treadmill, wearing their existing structural clothing followed by the new, lightweight clothing, whilst being monitored for heartbeat and skin surface temperatures. The results of the testing were then assessed using computer analysis tools developed by the University. The findings showed that the lighter weight Millenia Light™ suits improved the physical performance of the firefighters  against the heavier weight suits and reduced heartbeat. To put this into perspective, a standard EN469 structural firefighter’s suit has a weight of approximately 3.3kg, size large regular, whilst a Millenia Light™ suit of the same size weighs just 2.45kg.

If you live and work in hot climates it is worthwhile considering reviewing how well your firefighters perform wearing their current structural firefighter’s suits and how comfortable they feel. Outdoor temperatures in excess of 30⁰C will create heat stress in firefghters wearing heavy weight clothing. Heat stress causes a reduction in spatial awareness, poor decision making, shortness of breath and general lethargy. In extreme cases it can also lead to loss of consciousness and must be avoided at all costs. Wearing lightweight structural firefighter’s suits will help your firefighters to work more efficiently and comfortably and will promote better working conditions and higher levels of efficiency.