NCSU Researchers Receive $1 Million Grant To Evaluate Wildland Firefighting Gear

Researchers at Raleigh, N.C.-based North Carolina State University’s (NCSU’s) Textile Protection
and Comfort Center (T-PACC) have received a $1 million, two-year grant from the Assistance to
Firefighters Grants (AFG) Program to develop new testing technologies for evaluating the thermal
protective performance and comfort of materials used in wildland firefighter gear. AFG — a program
administered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency —
provides funding for firefighter safety research and development.

According to Dr. Roger Barker, T-PACC director and lead researcher on the project, new
flame-resistant fibers and fabrics are providing more thermal protection in firefighting gear than
older materials, but also sometimes have made clothing more uncomfortable, especially if added
fabric layers make the suit thicker and less breathable. One concern is that wildland firefighters
experience heat stress from wearing suits that trap body heat possibly for extended periods of time
and under extreme weather conditions.

“With wildfires, we’re not just talking about direct exposure to the flame, but also the
radiant heat coming off flames,” Barker said. “It’s a different kind of exposure — we’re exchanging
less heat intensity for longer periods of exposure — so using PyroMan™ wouldn’t help us in
addressing the particular problems wildland firefighters face,” he added, referring to the
state-of-the-art mannequin T-PACC currently uses to study garment and body reaction to intense heat
and flames.

As part of their R&D effort, NCSU researchers are working to develop RadMan™, an
instrumented mannequin specifically designed to evaluate radiant heat exposure. The mannequin will
be exposed to indirect radiant heat for up to several minutes, whereas PyroMan is only exposed to
direct flames for three to 10 seconds.

The NCSU team also will utilize T-PACC’s comfort research capabilities, including an advanced
sweating mannequin that measures the heat stress potential of wildland firefighter protective
clothing. In addition, wildland firefighters will participate in wear trials of gear in T-PACC’s
climate-controlled chamber to measure the comfort level of various outfits. The new testing methods
and knowledge will then be used to help the National Fire Protection Association revise its
standards for wildland firefighter ensembles.

July 19, 2011