Protective clothing and turnout gear actually have a number of similarities in terms of purpose, design and development. Naturally, body armor and turnout gear are both protective clothing items, and serve to keep the wearer safe from whatever threats they will be facing in their environment. However, the similarities run far deeper than most realize. The threats facing both Firefighters and people who require body armor, like the Police, are very similar in certain situations. However, even where they differ the methods and materials used in the two items are similar, as the protection necessitates similar schools of thought in design and development. Furthermore, by taking an in-depth look at the protection used on both sides, and the materials involved, each area can benefit and further its own development and design.
While the threats facing Firefighters and Police, for example, will be similar at times, the main threats to both differ greatly. While those wearing body armor will expect to face bullets, knives, or needles, Firefighters know their main threats are from fire and heat. The protective clothing Firefighters will use- their turnout gear- has to be able to withstand incredibly high temperatures and counteract the myriad problems that this can bring.
Both a bullet proof vest and turnout gear use the same materials, namely plastic fabrics formed from Aramids. These Aramids are strong, flexible, lightweight, heat-resistant fibers which are used to make fabrics like Kevlar, which is of course synonymous with bullet proof vests. Their strength is the reason they are used in ballistic protection, but they are also capable of standing upto extremely high temperatures, and will resist degradation. This is what allows these Aramids to work in turnout gear, as they will not melt or degrade even at temperatures of over 800°F. While Aramids are used in both turnout gear and body armor, manufacturers of Turnout Gear will specifically select fabrics designed to withstand high temperatures and flames. For example, the makers of Kevlar, DuPont- a staple in body armor- produce a material called Nomex, which is used commonly in Turnout Gear. Both Kevlar and Nomex are made from Aramids, and as such have incredibly high strength-to-weight ratios, but Kevlar sacrifices some of its heat resistance to improve this strength. Some manufacturers will use blends of materials, incorporating materials like Nomex and Kevlar to help improve things like resistance and comfort.
Comfort is an aspect of protective clothing which is often overlooked, as many are under the impression that comfort is a small sacrifice to make for potentially life-saving strength. However, comfort is an important of body armor and turnout gear, and cannot be sacrificed. For one thing, providing clothing that can be worn comfortably helps ensure it will be worn and will not interfere. For those working in such high-risk situations, this is incredibly important. The main reason for considering comfort is the practical benefits it can bring, particularly when considering Turnout Gear. The other major problem Firefighters face is the build-up of moisture caused by excessive temperatures. Excessive sweating is a given in these circumstances, but brings with it severe physical issues, such as dehydration, exhaustion, and cardiac arrest. Just as seriously, moisture build-up can lead to severe burns as the sweat is super-heated, and even the degradation of the Gear’s protective capabilities. If the moisture compromises the air barriers within the clothing, its performance and protection can no longer be guaranteed.
This is where the manufacturers of Turnout Gear follow somewhat in the developments of the body armor industry. A key problem for many manufacturers of Kevlar Vests is creating a product that can be worn comfortably for extended periods. By incorporating new design choices and newly developed materials, those making Turnout Gear can create items that are better suited to the conditions Firefighters work in. For example, some bullet proof vests incorporate breathable materials like CoolMax to help wick moisture away from the skin. This can directly benefit Firefighters, making Turnout Gear safer. Moreover, combining breathable and moisture-repellent materials with fabrics like Kevlar, Turnout Gear can not only improve comfort and breathability, but also prevent outside heat from being absorbed. The introduction of Aramid fabrics also helps reduce friction, allowing for the layers of Turnout Gear to work together much more efficiently.
The similarities between body armor and turnout gear are no accident, as the considerations for each naturally lead to the same place. Dealing with extreme threats and inhospitable environments is key to the development of protective clothing. However, it is by looking at the developments made in each industry that manufacturers can help improve the safety and comfort of their products. Newly-developed materials are continuing to revolutionize the way protective clothing is made, and by using it in different ways the makers of Turnout Gear can provide Firefighters with as much protection as possible without impeding their ability to tackle fires and save lives.