How to understand test results for protective clothing for firefighters
There’s such an enormous amount of information to absorb when choosing your new firefighter gear, it’s important you know how to understand the test results for protective clothing for firefighters.
Here’s a simplified explanation of the information you should expect to see from firefighter protective clothing manufacturers and guidance on what to look for in the test results.
Checking compliance with the relevant safety standard
The first step in assessing any protective clothing is checking the test certificate has been issued by a Notified Body – one that’s qualified and accredited to do the tests and provide results.
Next, you’ll need to know the protective garments meet the standard for firefighter protective clothing. EN469:2020 is the brand new standard which you can expect all gear to meet from early in 2021. Manufacturers do get some grace to ensure their garments are re-tested and certified, so you could also see kit which meets EN469:2005.
On the test reports will be a column listing the applicable essential health and safety requirements. There needs to be a tick in every box to demonstrate the protective clothing meets the standard.
One incredibly important test is the mannequin flash fire test. This shows what happens to the kit after eight seconds of intense heat simulating a flash fire. You’ll get an indicative burn prediction for second- and third-degree burns – lower numbers are better here. If you can go along to see the test you will also benefit from being able to see what happens to the kit afterwards. Does it break open or retain its strength?
The variables in protective clothing for firefighters
Specifying the right kit for your brigade isn’t as straightforward as simply understanding the test results for firefighters’ protective clothing, it’s about striking the right balance between all of the variables that make up a good structural suit. Higher numbers on the tests don’t necessarily mean a suit is “better”.
Each manufacturer will choose a different fabric blend, a different shape of suit, and will put the emphasis on some factors more than others, while remaining compliant with the standard.
A suit that provides more thermal protection will be heavier, meaning your crews will get tired more quickly and could be more at risk from heat stress. If the suit sacrifices some breathability for protection your teams could suffer scalds or steam burns as moisture builds up inside the suit. You might also want to assess tear strength and burst strength so you have an understanding of how well the suit will stand up to the rigours of the job.
In making a selection for your next round of firefighters’ protective clothing you should also consider how many washes and dry cycles the suit will stand. The industry’s understanding of the risk of particulates and other contaminants is increasing; regular washing of kit is one of the major ways to mitigate this risk. If the suit you’re considering is recommended to withstand 50 washes and you’ll need to launder your kit every week, the kit needs replacing in a year.
Considering whole of life costs, not just up-front purchase price, is another important factor when choosing protective clothing for your fire brigade.
If you’re putting together the specification for your next purchase of structural suits and want to chat through how to understand test results for protective clothing for firefighters, give one of our friendly team a call on +44 (0) 1332 341030.