Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Air Force Firefighters Test New Gear

Being a firefighter is arguably one of the most physically demanding jobs. For that reason, the Air Force is finding ways to make the job easier. Sixteen firefighters here are testing new protective gear that may increase comfort, mobility and mission effectiveness for more than 3,600 active-duty and 2,800 Air Force Reserve firefighters. Joseph Rivera, Air Force Civil Engineer Support Agency's Fire and Emergency Services program manager said the firefighters are testing an upgrade to the joint firefighter integrated response ensemble, or JFIRE. The test could lead to teh replacement of the existing chemical protective overgarment with a lighter chemical protective undergarment. Basically, the undergarment will replace the existing overgarment when firefighters are dressed for various mission-oriented protective postures, known as MOPP, including MOPP-4, the most serious posture.Currently, firefighters are required to wear their chemical gear under silver proximity suits. If the new chemical protective undergarments are approved, they will be worn under battle dress uniforms, which will be covered with the silver suits when responding to emergencies. "JFIRE allows firefighters to egress aircraft under MOPP-4 conditions or respond to other emergencies with toxic atmospheres," Mr. Rivera said. "The ensemble allows firefighters to transition from filtered canister air to supplied bottled air when operating in oxygen-deficient environments, or where superheated air and gas exists." Mr. Rivera said the undergarments, which look like a hooded, fitted jogging suit, are lighter and the mesh-like design breathes which makes it cooler. Engineers from the 28th Test and Evaluation Squadron here are evaluating that feature. Second Lt. Stacy Baber, squadron program manager, is monitoring the firefighters' responses. Using heart and respiratory rates, dermal skin temperatures and running times on an obstacle course, she and her team are tracking data results. Some tasks the firefighters perform include dragging a charged hose line and a 150-pound victim, and making three consecutive trips up and down a ladder. All of this is done while the firefighters are fully dressed in gear that can weigh as much as 68 pounds. "Using the design, we can randomize testing to see if the test data confirms what we're being told, that the suit increases evaporative cooling," Lieutenant Baber said. Tech. Sgt. Christopher Proctor, a 96th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter, said it was a privilege to test the suits for the Air Force, especially since they potentially could be used by everyone in the Air Force fire and emergency services. He said he's worn the standard JFIRE many times in his 17-year career. "I like the CPU," he said. "It offers more maneuverability and less resistance, plus it's not as bulky." The test program lasted one week. If approved, the CPUs could be in firefighters' hands soon. Air Combat Command is the lead major command for this test since its responsibility includes management of all chemical warfare equipment in the Air Force and the joint arena.

blog counter