The primary duty of a firefighter is to respond to emergency situations where life and property are at risk. However, in order for a firefighter to safely do their job, they must have personal protection equipment that is reliable, durable and ensures protection from injuries or illnesses from potential hazards. Typical gear includes respirators, turnout gear, gloves, blankets and gas masks.
Today, we’ll focus on gloves, but first, let’s get some of the technical stuff out of the way. The Department of Homeland Security states that “structural firefighting gloves must be resistant to flame, conductive heat, liquid penetration, cuts and punctures.” In order to ensure this, we look to The National Fire Protection Association.
Established in 1896, the NFPA is a global, non-profit organization dedicated to “eliminating death, injury, property and economic loss due to fire, electrical and related hazards.” To achieve this, the NFPA developed a list of over 300 codes and standards that guide the world on helping to eliminate death and injury. NFPA 1971, Standard on Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting, guides us in relation to structural firefighting gloves and encapsulates the performance requirements that must be met.
According to data reported to the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) from 2012-2014, 21% of fire-related firefighter injuries were to the upper extremities (arms/hands), topping the list of body parts injured. While the majority of injuries involved wounds/bleeding, 21% of them were from burns. This supports the idea that having a proper pair of gloves helps protect you from injury.
Chances are, as a firefighter, you’re not in love with the gloves you use. Some of the biggest complaints from firemen about their gloves include dexterity, ease of use when donning and doffing, and fit.
So, how do you know if you need new gloves? Let us break it down for you.
While these gloves are helpful for rescue situations outside of fire suppression or tactical use, they don’t provide the adequate thermal protection you need going into a structural fire, and will likely lead to an injury. If this sounds like you, you’ll want to look into a pair of gloves that meets the NFPA 1971 requirements, like this innovative 3D option (we’ll talk more about this innovation later).
First, let’s differentiate between dexterity and flexibility. Flexibility refers to the stiffness of the glove and the ease of which it moves, while dexterity refers to being able to perform the functions of your job while wearing the glove.
Many firefighters complain that their gloves lack palm dexterity, making it hard to grab items like a rope or an axe handle. Others say that the gloves lack finger dexterity meaning that they can’t pick up small items or handle communication tasks. If you’re having dexterity issues, you’re likely removing your gloves to perform these tasks, and that immediately puts you at greater risk for injury.
Donning gloves means putting them on, while doffing gloves refers to removing them. First, if your gloves fit too loosely, you’re likely to take them off because you can’t manage the tasks at hand efficiently. Those issues with dexterity we just mentioned will definitely be a problem with loose gloves, and you are likely to doff your gloves to perform duties like changing radio channels or handling small tools. The minute you remove your gloves, your hands lose all protection.
While this may be fine if you’re outside the structure and in a safe environment away from the fire, it creates a bad habit that you can adjust to, and you may be more likely to doff your gloves inside a burning structure which immediately puts you at risk of being injured.
You may have also chosen a larger pair of gloves because putting them on when wet can be difficult and time consuming, but you’re compromising your protection by the loose fit. Your safety is of the utmost importance so choosing a glove with a good fit is vital.
Proper sizing is crucial. A glove that’s too tight is just as problematic as a loose glove. You may have chosen a smaller size thinking it would make the dexterity issues you’re having disappear. However, this is a bad idea because wearing gloves that are too small increases your chances of injury as the tight fit compresses the thermal protection offered by the gloves.
In addition, wearing gloves that are too small means you’re probably foregoing the wristlet protection, exposing yourself once again. Firemen tend to doff tight gloves because they are uncomfortable, again increasing the risk for injury.
While these gloves may be sentimental, or you think nothing is wrong with them, you’re probably ready for a new pair. The guidelines to NFPA 1971 are changing, as is technology. But the biggest problem with old gloves is that you have to ensure proper care for a long-lasting life.
This means proper cleansing for the entire life of the glove by removing as much debris as possible, avoiding cleaning agents that will breakdown the fibers, and air-drying to prevent shrinkage. By not caring for your gloves properly, they are slowly breaking down, therefore becoming less effective as time goes on. Wearing a glove past its useful life can be just as harmful to you as an ill-fitting glove.
If you relate to even one of the issues above, you’re in the market for a new pair of gloves. Today’s firefighter expects more from their gloves, and your old ones may be holding you back. It’s not just about hosing down a fire. You need a glove that evolves with the job, making you more efficient, allowing you to access your equipment quickly, and with better dexterity.
The good news is that The U.S. Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate has partnered with NanoSonic, Inc. and Shelby Specialty Gloves to combat the issues we discussed. They have created a glove that meets the expectations of firefighters, and provides the full range of protection needed.
The Shelby Flex-Tuff HS Glove touts better flexibility, better don and doff (wet or dry), and a better fit without glove creep. The 3D design on the shell layer produces an end result that gives you superior index finger dexterity and better use of your fingers and thumb. And, most importantly, the glove is NFPA 1971 Compliant, so you can be confident that you are protected.