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The History and Evolution of Personnel Protective Gear Essay

Fire fighting is one of the most important jobs in the world because the threat of fire to the society is real and present everytime. Fire fighters are needed in different fields and in different locations – fire fighting in the city inside residential and business districts, fire fighting in forests and woodlands and even fire fighting on seas when ships and sea vehicles catch fire. The threat to the place that is burning is as important as the threat to the life of the fire fighters who are battling fires.

Because of that, it is important that fire fighters are equipped not just with equipment that can help them put out the fire, but also with equipment that can help them protect themselves from the threat posed by fire, like burning, smoke inhalation and oxygen deprivation, and worse, death. Through the years the equipment and materials used by fire fighters to protect themselves from fire has developed and evolved. This is because it needs to suit to the needs of fire fighting and adapt to the latest development and advancement in the field of fire fighting.

The importance of protective gear and equipment of fire fighters and how it evolved through the years is a significant aspect of the fire fighting history in the world. Because of that importance, this paper will focus on discussing such developments and how it impacted fire fighting and made fire fighting a more effective aspect of social welfare service rendered by the government for the safety of the people and the environment.

The protective gear of the fire fighters must take into consideration that the level of protection needed by fire fighters vary depending on the condition of the environment wherein the fire fighter operates. The protective gear, particularly, the basic protective outfit that fire fighters wear, must be able to protect the fire fighters in as many life threatening aspects of the job as possible. Aside from the immediate threat that the fire fighter might be burned while conducting fire fighting exercise, there is also the threat of environment like the weather (snow, rain etc) and the presence and exposure to water itself.

“The environment that a fire fighter experiences in the normal course of duty ranges from benign to very dangerous. The protective clothing that fire fighters wear must meet a variety of performance criteria; it must protect from the extreme heat of fires, it must protect from the cold of winter (Yarborough, 2005, p. 74). ” But the notion of protection is not just limited on the characteristic of protective gear and clothing inhibiting the impact of fire, cold and smoke to the body.

Protection also means that the protective gear should not hinder the movement and ability for mobility of the fire fighter. In fire fighting, being unable to move is a very dangerous situation to be in, since fire fighters sometimes come inside a burning house to save individuals. But if they cannot manage the return trip outside of the burning house, it endangers not only the lives of those they were hoping to save but also the lives of the people who came in and was expected to save the people in trouble.

Because of this, the notion of protection also included the idea that the protective gear should not impede or restrain the fire fighter so that the fire fighter can protect himself and the victims from fire by being mobile and moving from an unsafe location to a safe location as the fire fighting process is underway. “It must be light enough that sheer weight of the gear does not cause undue stress on their bodies. To this end, one design has become the standard for fire fighter turnout gear.

This design includes a heat resistant outer shell, typically made of some synthetic fiber; a moisture barrier, typically made of a water resistant breathable material, and a thermal barrier, typically made of wool felt with some aramid fiber woven into it (Yarborough, 2005, p. 74). ” The History of the Protective Gear and Clothing that Fire Fighters Used and Wore With the absence of technology and the knowledge about this particular discipline in social welfare service, the earliest forms of fire fighting was unorganized as it was lacking with suitable equipment.

Fire protection among the fire fighters was not present then. The people doing the fire fighting have to rely on the clothes on their backs. The first notable development in fire fighting gear and protective clothing happened in 1730s after Jacobus Turck made what was considered as the first ever fireman’s helmet. Unlike modern day fireman’s helmet, the Turck helmet has a wide brim and was made with leather. It also featured a high crown. The development of the fireman’s head gear made its next milestone the following century, when Henry T.

Gratacap improved the design of the fire fighter’s helmet. It was the improvement to Turck’s design including the protection in the neck and nape and the presence of front shield; while the hat itself was more reinforced than the previous design. Besides head protection, the development on coats and pants especially for fire fighting was also taking place, with fire fighters getting to use these clothing which was reinforced by wool so that it is more heat and water resistant compared to ordinary everyday clothing.

Because fire fighting exposed fire fighters to hot surfaces and a terrain that is filled with dangerous materials like broken glass and splinters of sharp woods, rocks and mangled steel, fire figthers already started wearing safety boots right about the time the second development in the helmet happened and the fire fighters were wearing wool jackets and pants (Hasenmeier, 2008).

The same century marked the work of Giovanni Aldini who was made one of the earliest attempts to design a mask that can protect fire fighters from the smoke present during fire fighting, working on this apparatus at 1825, an effort that was pursued similarly by other individuals including John Roberts. But a more definitive mask for fire fighting came out in 1863 behind the efforts of James Braidwood.

Braidwood’s idea of a mask that can supply fresh air to the wearer consists of bags that act as artificial lungs, strapped on the back of the wearer and features a waist belt to go with the shoulder straps necessary to carry it and bring it wherever the fire fighter goes during the course of his work. A mouthpiece connects the hose to the sacs of air that the wearer can inhale. This development improved the fire fighter’s list of protective gears and clothing at the time, which also already included goggles, as well as whistles and leather hoods for added protection.

This is to allow fire fighters to communicate even through non verbal means, allowing other fire fighters to know the position and location of each other during fire fighting operations. At the start of the twentieth century, rubber was integrated in the uniforms of the fire fighters. Hasenmeier (2008) noted in his article that there were already existing proofs that some fire fighting groups that used rubber jackets and rubber boots as early as the 1930s so that they are as dry as possible and far from the health threats brought about by being soaked in cold water especially during the cold parts of the year (Hasenmeier, 2008).

Then came next are the bunker gears or turnout gears. The name of which Hasenmeier believed to have originated either from the act of bunking together and turning out during fire fighting missions, or because it was the same protective clothing worn by soldiers turned fire fighters especially those who are designated in the cannon positions in the bunkers during World War I.

After the end of the Second World War, standards for protective equipment among fire fighters became official and enforced as a necessary protocol for fire fighter’s safety. It was also about the same time that improvements in the breathing apparatus for fire fighters were developed, including the time when the concept of Scott Aviation was applied in the 1945-era breathing equipment that fire fighters started using. In 1982 there was already what is known as the Personal Alert Safety System or PASS and the necessary standards to maintain this.

Today, more and more efforts were being made to ensure that the gear and clothing of the fire fighters are more and more suitable to the needs of the fire fighters and their particular working condition. Different countries are making many different developments in the material of the coats and pants, as well as the design and ability of the breathing apparatus used by fire fighters so that they are safe, and so are the people they are trying to rescue in the process.

Because of the presence of more modern approach to fire fighting and the development of fire fighting gears and clothing, the design of future apparatus for fire fighter safety includes the “harmonious design” of the gears and clothing, as well as the “functional integration of characteristics such as resistance to cuts and punctures, mobility, waterproofness, fit and durability (Barker, Coletta, 1986, p. 487). ”

Because fire fighting is more modern now, the design includes other safety considerations like the consideration that “fire figthers also may come in contact with poisonous, flammable, or explosive gases and chemicals, as well as radioactive or other hazardous materials that may have immediate or long term effects on their health. For these reasons, they must wear protective gear that can be very heavy and hot (US Department of Labor, 2006, p. 360). ”


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