First Responder Safety
The Fire Protection Research Foundation launches a new study.
NFPA Journal, March/April 2008
In 2007, the Fire Protection Research Foundation undertook what we hope will be the beginning of a series of research studies designed to improve the technical basis of NFPA codes and standards related to first responder safety. We chose four projects based on needs identified by NFPA staff and technical committee members and chairs. One, which is the subject of this column, was funded by NFPA through a grant designed to help technical committees with research information. The other three are the subject of a U.S. Department of Homeland Security fire prevention and safety research grant and are currently nearing completion.
Respiratory exposure during overhaul operations is a longstanding concern for the fire service and was an early research priority NFPA technical committee members brought to the Foundation. Firefighters and other emergency responders routinely use self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) to protect against hazardous atmospheres that contain harmful gases and particulates. However, SCBA have certain practical field limitations, including a finite supply of air and various design features that restrict a firefighter’s dexterity and vision. Expecting firefighters to wear SCBA for long-duration activities isn’t practical, and firefighters sometimes choose not to use SCBA when the hazardous atmosphere can be readily tolerated for short-term exposure. Examples of such situations include overhaul at structure fires, outdoor fires, and fire investigations.
The goal of the project is to provide information that helps develop and clarify best practice guidance for determining when firefighters and other emergency responders should use SCBA and other respiratory protective equipment while exposed to atmospheres that may be hazardous yet can be tolerated for short-term exposures, such as during overhaul operations or fighting outdoor fires.
The project consisted of a literature review of research on respiratory exposure in firefighters and other emergency responders; a summary of the equipment currently available that emergency responders can use for field measurement of potentially harmful atmospheres; and a summary of fire department standard operating procedures, standard operating guidelines, and related information on respiratory exposure during overhaul and other, similar exposure situations.
The Foundation’s report, which is currently available on our website, www.nfpa.org/Foundation, is a comprehensive compilation of the literature on respiratory exposure and the best practices of the fire service. It should serve as a valuable resource to many of NFPA’s technical committees.
Stay tuned for other ongoing fireservice-related projects at the Foundation: exploring firefighter tactics in wind-driven conditions, developing a test method for thermal capacity of firefighter protective clothing, and measuring code-compliance effectiveness.
Kathleen H. Almand, P.E., FSFPE, is the executive director of the Fire Protection Research Foundation.