Uniforms and equipment
As well as the obvious dangers of heat, firefighters are exposed to toxic fumes, sharp objects, uneven ground, slippery surfaces, biological fluids, spilt chemicals and electricity.
Because of this firefighting uniforms need to provide the best protection possible for our firefighters. Firefighting ensembles are known as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and generally consist of the following items:
A firefighter's tunic is made from fire resistant, synthetic fabric which retains its structural strength after fire exposure, and resists cuts and tears. It provides a good level of protection without exacerbating the metabolic heat stress of the firefighter. It is designed to enable good flexibility and the collar has a long zip to ensure complete closure of the jacket to the neck. It provides a high level of thermal resistance protection without being overly heavy to wear.
The protective hood or flash hood is a one-piece garment that provides extra protection to the head and neck during structural firefighting.
Firefighting boots are designed to provide superior safety and comfort to the wearer. They have a dual density cushioned rubber sole which reduces the boot weight and provides orthotic superiority, greater ankle support and reduces skeletal impact related injuries. Additionally, the boot is fire retardant and resistant to water penetration. A full interior synthetic fire retardant liner provides increased wearer comfort, by allowing better foot breathability and increased thermal and radiant heat protection.
International trends in firefighting helmets change almost every five years. The present helmet on issue to FRNSW firefighters complies with the Australian Standard for structural firefighting helmets. Helmets are designed to be durable, long-lasting, impact absorbent, protective and as lightweight as possible. The colour of the helmet is different depending on the rank of the firefighter. Most firefighters have yellow helmets, while the Commissioner's is black.
Firefighters have different types of gloves for protection against the variety of hazards that may be experienced in their duties. For example there are surgical gloves for protection from biological hazards (e.g. body fluids), chemical resistant gloves, general purpose gloves and thermal resistant gloves for general firefighting. There is no single glove that can provide adequate protection from all risks. Training, experience and supervision are needed to ensure the correct glove is being worn.
Breathing apparatus is needed by firefighters when carrying out interior offensive structural firefighting or in other areas where they may be exposed to high temperatures, oxygen deficiency, toxic substances, smoke concentration, dust, heat radiation or burning embers. Breathing apparatus is worn for the respiratory safety of firefighters. They supply the wearer with air from a cylinder.
Wet weather clothing
Wet weather gear is often needed for hazardous materials and rescue incidents in bad weather, as well as when assistance is provided to the State Emergency Service during a storm or flood. Firefighters have a multipurpose jacket for use in a variety of operational areas, with a high degree of protection from the elements and comfort from climatic extremes.
Cold and extreme climate clothing
Firefighters who work in Alpine areas such as the Snowy Mountains require clothing more suitable to their environment. To meet these extremely cold conditions firefighters have additional clothing items which provide thermal comfort including heavy weight socks, longer and substantially warmer coats, heavier weight pullovers and in some circumstances, fur lined caps. Firefighters who actually work in the snowfields also have snow gloves and fully lined heavy weight raincoats and overtrousers.
The bushfire jacket is designed primarily for bushfire fighting applications. The jacket is lightweight, comfortable and affords the wearer moderate levels of both radiant and thermal protection, while minimising the possibility of heat stress.
High visibility safety vests
From time to time firefighters are required to operate on or near roadways or in areas where they need to be clearly visible. For these situations firefighters wear a lime yellow vest with silver reflective tape. The vest ensures that personnel in a non-firefighting situation can be adequately seen by passing motorists. These are not used in firefighting operations.
Overtrousers provide firefighters with increased protection and, as the term implies, are worn over another pair of trousers.
Overtrousers are made of synthetic fabric with high temperature resistance and good thermal stability. They fit very loosely to allow air to circulate between the two layers of garments. The cushion of air also enhances thermal protection.
Fire and Rescue NSW is continually reviewing requirements for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to ensure our firefighting staff our provided with the best quality equipment to enable them to carry out their work safely.
Firefighting uniforms need to be rigorously tested to ensure they can withstand the harsh environment of an emergency situation.
For example, we work with the CSIRO to test fabric quality and contamination retention. These tests explore thermal penetration of chemicals into firefighting garments in high temperature “flash over” and general firefighting environments.
We also analyse the cognitive responses to firefighters during high heat/temperature exposures.