Protective Ensembles for Firefighting Challenge the Balance and Stability of Firefighters

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By Donald R. Adams, Sr.

King's Point Volunteer Fire District is a rural, residential community that has recently experienced tremendous growth, as well as an increase in both emergent and non-emergent incidents. With the increase of incidents, King's Point has experienced a number of firefighters, with no apparent sensory deficits, experience slips and falls while wearing protective clothing ensembles. The purpose of this research project was to investigate the affects on a firefighter's center of gravity (COG) and balancing ability when wearing a station uniform as compared to wearing protective clothing ensembles, coupled with a self contain breathing apparatus.

This project employed evaluative and historical research methods to (a) determine what deficiencies are encountered while wearing protective ensembles in order to position one's center of gravity (COG) over the base of support (BOS) in a given sensory environment, (b) determine the physiological impairments associated with the firefighter's age as it affects one's center of gravity (COG) over the base of support (BOS) in a given sensory environment, (c) determine the advantages of computer-based assessment to learn firefighters' strategies in maintaining balance, (d) determine some of the limitations and deficiencies of computer-based assessment to learn firefighters' strategies in maintaining balance, (e) determine if computer-based assessment replicates the reality of firefighters' strategies in maintaining balance, and (f) determine if computer-based assessment has an influence on firefighters learning their strategies to maintain balance.

The procedure used involved a review of academic and trade journal publications, interviews, questionnaires, and a clinical study. A comparison of literature reviews of balance, physiological impairment associated with balance, as well as human mediated testing methodologies for protective clothing ensembles to computer-based testing was made. In addition, interviews and a questionnaire were used to obtain chief officers' perceptions of the need to evaluate firefighters' balance and stability while wearing protective clothing ensembles, as well as if slips and falls are prevalent to firefighters wearing protective clothing ensembles.

The major findings of this research were slip and falls account for 25 percent, respectively, of fireground injuries to firefighters, and that protective clothing ensembles impair balance. The recommendation resulting from this research indicated a need for King's Point Volunteer Fire Department to use computer-based assessment for selection and procurement of protective clothing ensembles. However, it was also noted that King's Point, as well as many of the municipalities in Central Florida, do not have the physical budget to purchase computer-based assessment to determine which type of protective clothing ensembles negatively affect balance prior to procurement of the ensembles. Therefore, it was recommended that another agency, such as the National Fire Academy (NFA) or the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), do further research using computer-based assessment to evaluate protective clothing ensembles and their affect on the balance of firefighters.