There is scarcely an area of application available that requires such elaborate protective clothing, as is the case with fire brigades. It is evident: When energy-sapping use takes place at extreme temperatures, the highest level of functional requirements is placed on the individual elements of protective equipment. Even though protection has had the utmost priority for years, today, the call for increased wear comfort and a certain chic is becoming more and more prevalent. Aligned with these needs, special providers are developing multiple solutions with regard to materials, technologies and designs. Specialist visitors from fields including fire brigades, technical relief organisations, or industrial hazard prevention can once again find everything to satisfy their needs at the beginning of November at the A+A 2015 in Düsseldorf, the leading international trade fair for personal safety, security and health at work, which will be accommodating around 1,800 exhibitors (27 – 30 October).
Basically, developing practical clothing is similar to dealing with the age-old dilemma of "squaring the circle". The problem: Repeatedly, fighting fire can result in heat stress and scalding. This is caused by extremely high temperatures in combination with the steam or the compressions of wet clothing layers. Conventional three-layer designs had the advantage that they were especially water-resistant in the case of the functional membrane being located close to the outer material. Therefore, there was a great deal left to be desired with regard to breathability, which enabled this moisture to be transported away from the skin. If the design was structured in such a way that the membrane was located close to the skin, the transport of moisture away from the skin was good, but due to this, the outer material drew in more water becoming soaked. Gore, a specialist for functional membranes, took on precisely this issue and developed a new technology. This will be presented as part of the A+A 2015 (hall 4 / C05). The company seems to have been in line with spirit of the times because around half a dozen suppliers of fire brigade protective clothing have included this technology directly into their range. This spontaneous success is based on related research involving numerous users in the run-up.
"The tendency is clear,” said Dirk Stephan, responsible for fire brigade services at Gore. "No one wants thermal protection anymore. We already have very high standards in that respect. The requirements placed on fire brigade protective clothing are similar to those placed on all-season tyres. They must entail a convincing compromise for a wide range of scenarios. Only 20 percent of all deployments include fires, otherwise the tasks of firefighters include pumping out basements, climbing several floors to break open a door or providing help in the event of car accidents. Here, you start to sweat very quickly. Therefore, the call for more wear comfort became more and more prevalent,” Dirk Stephan further explained.
New materials and technologies
“Parallon” is the name of the new Gore product. The name is based on the layer structure. In the system, two membranes are manufactured. One membrane is placed onto a thermal material under a freely selectable upper material (e.g. Nomex, PBI matrix, titanium) as a carrier. A second membrane glued to the inner lining facing toward the body is added. The upper membrane faces outwardly so that it is especially water-resistant. The inner membrane is aligned toward the skin. In this way, it effectively absorbs moisture that is evenly dispersed and rapidly diffuses outwardly.
The material compounds, "X-treme" and "X-treme light" by the Austrian fire brigade/clothing specialist, Texport, have been continuously further developed (hall 3 / G24). By means of effective thermal insulation, this technology delays heat emission considerably and is comfortable to wear nevertheless. Furthermore, in close cooperation with DuPont (hall 5 / A40) and the fabric supplier, Ibena (hall 4 / A40), Texport has developed a new fibre that does not undergo any change even after being worn for a long time and being washed several times. In this connection, it entails a fibre entitled “Nomex” by DuPont, where the "para aramide fibres" that are responsible for strength have been replaced by polyester.
S-Gard (hall 03/ A74) gives purchasers the possibility to decide on a “Nomex" or a "PBI” design in the case of outer fabric belonging to the “Ultimate” series with “Hainsworth Titanium Technology” (dual layer construction of the fabric instead of mixing Nomex and Kevlar yarns). "PBI" (by the fabric specialist PBI Performance Products; hall 3 / D50) is considered to be especially fire and flame resistant as well as being robust. In order to meet the requirements of firefighters with regard to flame resistant fabric, S-Gard additionally offers the newly developed upper material, "Trinity with PBI". "Trinity" does not only feature a high level of flame resistance but also a high level of tensile strength and tear resistance. Thereby, the material itself feels soft and smooth.
A look at the colour
A look at the colours also promises something new. Gold is gaining in popularity but will not be able to replace red for a long time. Three colours represent great success. Whether with gold, red or blue as a basis – everything that catches the eye and that is capable of differentiating emergency services personnel from each other well is catching on more and more. “That is not merely a niche market. There are inquiries being made by the voluntary fire brigades as well as by professional and factory fire brigades in addition to colleagues abroad,” Heinemann observed.
Segmented reflective strips heighten the level of visibility from above as well as lateral visibility. The stripes have been designed differently on the front and the back so that it is possible, in the dark and great distances, to differentiate if someone's back or face is facing you.
An optimised cut
The cut makes an enormous contribution to practicability and therefore also to wear comfort. This includes shoulder pads as well as pads at the knees and elbows – in the case of S-Gard made of silicon/carbon-coated Kevlar. In order to prevent wear, the hemmed edges at all the arms and the legs are reinforced.
Pockets have been optimised with regard to both their placement and angle of access for intuitive and quick handling. Cargo pockets are equipped with a "load control system" so that they along with their contents can be fixed into position and protected against slippage by being pulled closer to the body. All handling and adjustment elements have again been optimised for handling them with gloves and can now be gripped even more easily. At Pfanner (hall 3 / H56), an Austrian fire brigade specialist, a new zipper concept is being worked on as of now that allows for easier handling in an economic manner. In order for the rescue loop (it replaces the fireman's belt) to be capable of being pulled out as quickly as possible in critical situations, there have also been numerous developments. For example, S-Gard provides the jackets with a storage pocket for the rescue loop providing not only protection from direct flames, but being able to be pulled out within three seconds, guaranteeing a free line of view during rescue operations.
The requirement for heightened levels of wear comfort is also not coming to a halt in the case of shoes. On the search for "functional ease and lightness", Haix in Mainburg (hall 5/C11) has developed the firefighter boots "Fire Hero 2". It features an especially lightweight construction. Despite this, the protective cover exceeds all standards on a worldwide basis. The sole has been designed to be slimmer and more dynamic. Thereby, it dampens impact effectively and provides for a good level of temperature insulation. Thanks to the quick close system, firefighters don't lose any time when getting suited up. In conclusion, with regard to its optics and visibility, it can't be confused with anything else: With a fiery red tongue of the shoe, a fiery red protector system and yellow elements in the sole. For even more ease and lightness, Haix is also presenting the "Fire Eagle", the "small brother" of "Fire Hero” at the A+A 2015. These emergency services shoes, which are similar to sports shoes with regard to its look and design, weigh less than 1000 g per shoe. "Due to the new colour, the shoes have an extremely good level of visibility," said the Haix manager, Ewald Heimerl, who is an experienced firefighter himself. "In this manner, for example, in the case of individuals crawling in a sequential row, visually locating the person directly ahead is considerably improved."
With wearables in the future
Since the time S-Gard played a leading role in the "SensProCloth" research project, the company is now committed to the collaborative project entitled “Leuchtschutz” (“Light Protection”). Together with PPS GmbH and the Institute for Textiles and Process Engineering in Denkendorf (ITV), the fire brigade clothing specialist has developed a lit safety vest equipped with waterproof LEDs. With a battery capacity of eight hours, LEDs colour patterns can be programmed, luminescence can be controlled and the blinking function can be configured. Bruno Schmitz, the managing director of S-Gard is satisfied: "The lighting system has passed the in-house Thermo-Man® test at DuPont successfully and furthermore, it can be washed. The control unit merely has to be removed from the vest before watching." In addition, the vests are equipped with a location system. The location system runs via radio waves, GSM and GPS. Using a software with an open card system, the location of emergency services personnel can be accurately detected. The vests can be regulated on the side along their length and have functions in the collar, which can also be equipped with LEDs. They are available in the colours white, blue, green, red, yellow and orange.
There are other approaches: Texport and S-Gard are participating in the EU project "smart@fire". It deals with the integration of intelligent systems into clothing. Here, manufacturers can apply with solutions that they have pre-financed and developed to a certain level. If accepted into the project, support is provided for further development and optimisation from a fund belonging to the "smart@fire" project. The goal is to develop cooperative solutions for sensors, tracking systems as well as data transfer and visualisation systems that are practical. This is because the project makes the following claim: Each year, more than 100 firefighters die while saving the lives of others. "Smart@fire" would like to reduce firefighting risks. The results are supposed to be presented this year.
Information on the A+A 2015 in Düsseldorf (27 to 30 October), exhibitors (e.g., from the area of personal protective equipment) and their innovations are available online at: http://www.AplusA.de
Author reference: Kirsten Rein, specialised journalist in the field of textiles, Frankfurt am Main