Author(s): Ken Willette. Published on September 3, 2014.

I TOOK THREE YEARS OF LATIN in high school, figuring it might help me become a doctor or lawyer. Instead, I became a firefighter, and, truth be told, Latin came in handy prepping for emergency medical technician exams and executive fire officer legal classes.

I’ve been thinking a lot about a particular Latin term lately. The idea of caveat emptor—“let the buyer beware”—is one we all need to understand, especially when evaluating how products are designed to provide protection to responders during activities in environments that are immediately dangerous to life and health.

Caveat emptor implies that buyers should inspect or review a product thoroughly to ensure it meets the buyer’s needs. I can think of plenty of occasions when I’ve used caveat emptor as my guiding light: the hours of research I invested in finding the best neighborhood to purchase a home, checking consumer reviews before purchasing a new washing machine, reading the nutrition labels on prepared foods for the nights I cook (or warm up) dinner. As consumers, it is essential that we do our homework to make sure we get the best value for our investment.

As a buyer of equipment for the fire service, do you perform the same level of research? How closely do you scrutinize personal protective equipment (PPE), such as structural firefighting ensembles and self-contained breathing apparatus? How exacting are you when it comes to selecting electronic safety equipment (ESE) like thermal imagers? You can certainly try on the PPE and test the performance of the thermal imagers, but those aren’t the only tools at your disposal to help you make an informed decision on these critical pieces of equipment.

You can also rely on more than a dozen NFPA standards to habet bonam electionem auxilium diam—“help the buyer make a good choice.” These documents provide recommended practices for the design, testing, and certification of PPE and ESE. To assist buyers and users, these standards recommend each piece of compliant PPE or ESE have a permanent label affixed that explicitly states it meets the requirements of the relevant standard. For example, on a thermal imager it would read: This Thermal Imager Meets The Requirements of NFPA 1801, Standard on Thermal Imagers for the Fire Service, 2013 Edition. Do Not Remove This Label!

Note that the label does not say the equipment is approved, tested, or certified by NFPA, as NFPA does not provide those services. The PPE and ESE standards require independent, third-party testing and certification of compliance with the relevant standard and that the certification organization’s label be included with the NFPA compliance and manufacturer’s label. The presence of that label allows responders across the globe to verify if a particular piece of PPE or ESE meets the minimum NFPA standard design and performance criteria developed by a diverse technical committee, with members drawn from responders, experts in the field, manufacturers, researchers, labor, regulators, and the public. Their collective efforts result in recommended design, testing, and certification practices that reflect the dangerous environment responders operate in.

When evaluating PPE or ESE, look for the label—it’s your confirmation that the equipment is NFPA-compliant and can serve as a benchmark as you evaluate comparable, labeled products. You can be confident that they have been independently tested and certified to a specified level of performance. That’s how caveat emptor is transformed into emptor saturabuntur: “a satisfied buyer.”