Firefighter protective equipment and clothing research

The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) partners with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) on research projects to improve the protective qualities of clothing and equipment used by firefighters in operational situations. Below are descriptions of recent and current projects.

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Personal Alert Safety Systems

USFA and NIST assessed existing Personal Alert Safety System (PASS) technology in 2005-2006 and identified opportunities to:

The performance metrics and standard testing protocols developed from this project were incorporated into relevant National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards.

Explore the research findings by downloading these reports from project experiments on the NIST website.

Protective clothing

Past research on the quality of materials used in firefighter protective clothing includes:

Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus

USFA and NIST studied the thermal performance of Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) face pieces to increase the protection provided by this equipment to firefighters, especially during incidents of high thermal exposure such as flashover.

The study examined documented on-duty injuries and fatalities of firefighters due to thermal exposure of SCBA face pieces, with researchers conducting laboratory thermal testing of commercially-available SCBA face pieces. These research reports present the project findings.

This project also supported the NFPA’s Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus Technical Committeethrough identification of ways to enhance the operational effectiveness of SCBA face pieces. Included in the 2013 edition of NFPA 1981 is the new “Lens Radiant Heat Test” described in the NIST 1785 report.

Thermal imaging cameras

Thermal imaging cameras (TIC) are an important tool for many firefighters. USFA and NIST began work on a project in 2005 to develop performance metrics and standard testing protocols for TIC to help ensure operational consistency across designs and capabilities.

This work started with an assessment of the thermal imaging needs and activities of first responders. Performance metrics that describe TIC image contrast, effective temperature range, spatial resolution, image nonuniformity and thermal sensitivity were selected or developed based on an analysis of the information gathered. These imaging performance metrics and test methods were provided to standards development organizations, such as NFPA and ASTM International.

Explore the research findings by downloading these reports.

Thermal protective properties of personal protective equipment

An accurate understanding of environmental conditions under which firefighters can safely operate reduces the risk of injury and death. USFA and NIST are currently working on a research project to:

During this study, we will:

For more information about this project, please contact USFA's Bill Troup at 301-447-1231.

More information on firefighter protective clothing and equipment