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International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics
Volume 86, 2021, 103232

Comparison of three internationally certified firefighter protective ensembles: Physiological responses, mobility, and comfort

Tyler D.Quinna, Borja Gutiérrez-Santamaríab, Iker Sáezb, Aitor Santistebanb, Joo-Young Leec, Jung-Hyun Kimd, Aitor Cocab

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory, Pittsburgh, PA, USA.

Abstract

Background

Fire protective ensembles (FPEs) are essential to safely perform firefighting job tasks; however, they are often burdensome to the workers. The aim of this study was to compare three internationally certified fire protective ensembles from the European Union (EU), South Korea (SK), and United States (US) on physiological responses, mobility, and comfort.

Methods

Ten male professional firefighters performed a battery of exercises in the laboratory following the ASTM F3031-17 standard to evaluate mobility, occupation-specific performance, and physiological responses (body weight, heart rate (HR), core temperature (Tc), breathing rate (BR), and rating of perceived exertion (RPE)) to 20 min of treadmill walking (3.2 mph, 5% incline). All participants carried out the evaluation wearing each FPE in a random order. Mixed effects models examined time (pre-vs. post-) by ensemble (EU, SK, US) interactions for all physiological variables and compared comfort, performance, and subjective variables across ensembles.

Results

No interaction effects were observed for body weight, HR, Tc, BR, or RPE (p = 0.890, p = 0.994, p = 0.897, p = 0.435, and p = 0.221; respectively). SK had greater trunk flexion than EU (78.4° vs. 74.6°, p = 0.026) and US had lower standing reach than EU (105.5 cm vs. 115.4 cm, p = 0.004). Agility circuit time was lower in US (9.3 s) compared to EU (9.8 s) or SK (9.9 s) (p = 0.051 and p = 0.019, respectively).

Conclusions

The findings suggest that physiological burden remained largely unchanged across the international FPEs. However, mobility, performance, and comfort may be significantly influenced across types. International stakeholders and end users should consider design implications when choosing fire protective ensembles.

Keywords: Firefighter, Personal protective equipment, Ergonomics, Physiology, Perceived exertion, International standards.

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