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Firefighting Pocket - 
Innovation research

Sept/ Oct 2022

Firefighting Pocket

Exploration of innovative design and construction ideas around firefighting turnout pants pockets. 

Group project in collaboration with Emee Mathew  

Observation of "retired" Structural Turnout Pants & User needs definition

          In this project, we set out to lend a fresh eye to the design configuration of pockets in Structural firefighting turnout pants. Very similar designs of cargo pockets are used across North America by all the PPC manufacturers. This could arguably be because of the many risks coming with the firefighting profession, and the long list of rules and regulation one needs to follow when manufacturing firefighting PPC. All new design needs to go through an extensive and very costly process of testings, to ensure the safety of thee end user.
Here in the above pants, you can see that the cargo pockets match the standard commonly seen:

- Cargo Pocket with bellows

- Drainage eyelets

- Velcro closure

- Bartacks for reinforcement

- Pocket size - 10”x10”

 this particular pocket is also reinforced at the lower half by a second fabric layer, probably to avoid punctures from the sometimes sharp tools that these pockets need to carry. 

In order the understand the user a little better, here is a list of the tools a structural firefighter usually carries in his full turnout gear (coat & pants) :

           - Rope

           - 6-foot multi-purpose hook

           - Heavy-duty carabiners

           - Knife

           - Multi-purpose tool (e.g., Leatherman or Gerber)

           - Wire cutters/pliers/Channellocks

           - Doorstops/chocks

           - Vise grips

           - Folding spanner wrench

           - Flashlight

           - Four-way screwdriver

           - 2-inch webbing (various lengths were listed ranging from 8-feet to 20-feet)

           - Sprinkler wedges

           - Work gloves, extrication gloves

           - Spring-loaded centre punch

           - Non-contact voltage meter

           - EMS gloves

           - Waterproof notebook w/pen

           - Paramedic scissors 
...this is a non extensive list, as there are no rules as to what exactly a firefighter is supposed to carry. The items and number of vary for each person, and so does the repartition of what goes in the pants or in the coat. Each individual finding their own most adequate combination. Because of this absence of hard fact, and the timeline we were on, we decided to stick with the traditional pocket size : 10"x10".

In our design process, we had to ensure we were respecting the below NFPA standards for industry standards:

           - NFPA 1145 ™: Guide for the Use of Class A Foams in Fire Fighting

           - NFPA 1500 ™: Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety, Health, and Wellness Program

           - NFPA 1700 ™: Guide for Structural Fire Fighting

           - NFPA 1851 ™: Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire

                                    Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting 

           - NFPA 1971 ™: Standard on Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting 

           - NFPA 1976 ™: Standard on Protective Ensemble for Proximity Fire Fighting _

           - NFPA 1977 ™: Standard on Protective Clothing and Equipment for Wildland Fire Fighting and Urban

                                    Interface Fire Fighting 

          It is critical to note that all these pieces of protective equipment are designed to protect firefighters from the danger they are exposed to: fire, flames, smoke, burns, flying objects, burning steam , etc… However, in their intent to protect, they also cause discomfort and injuries. 

          The bulk and weight of turnout gear is significant, altering mobility and speed, the Breathing apparatus impacts balance, and the extreme layers of protection from outside elements inherently also obstructs any heat from exiting the garment’s microsystem, which can lead to heat exhaustion and vapour burns from the user’s own sweat being stuck inside the garment, while still being exposed to extreme heat.

          This combination of elements can then lead to tripping, strains, sprains, and even impact cognitive efficiency when decision making or reaction times are highly critical. In addition the extremely high output physical activity of the firefighters causes their body core temperature to rise, having little but nowhere to go.That heat stress has been proven to cause high disruption of the firefighters’ cognitive system and impacts their quickness of reaction and accuracy in decision making. As such, the thermal equation needs to stay in mind at all times during this design process. 

To sum up and make sure the users need are well defined, here are structural firefighter's most common tasks:

 • Fire intervention
• Car extraction
• Confined spaced rescue
• Emergency Medical Assistance
• Forcible Entry
Theses result in activities and movements such as dragging, crouching, crawling, carrying heavy loads, fire exposure, operating hose, setting up/climbing up ladder, navigate around unstable obstacles, communicate with unit and civilians,... The pockets need to be compatible with all these, without impairing the firefighters' mobility.

Design Research

Design process

          We started reflecting on the placement of the pocket. Could we move the pocket to other areas of the leg? Would it help to angle the pocket in any way, for a more ergonomic use? Unfortunately , because of the nature of the objects to be carried (heavy, sharp, pointy...), it seamed very unpractical to unbalance the pocket and have all the weight gather in a corner of the pocket.
          We decided to keep the side, upper thigh pocket placement, and try to optimize the design of the pocket itself for a better performance level. For this, we used all the feature of the pocket : webbing, velcro, reinforcements, as additional storage or organizing features.
          In parallel, we tried to reduce the bulkiness of the pocket, aiming for it to be flatter when not full, so as to allow for easier access to small spaces and less risk of catching and getting caught on a sharp elements when on site in a dangerous environment. (See photos above and hover for details.)


          We then proceeded to test some of these ideas with paper prototypes (...or my kind friend Emee did, while I was stuck in bed with Covid 19). This allowed us to decide to proceed with the MOLLE webbing inspired idea. We also realized that the collapsable drainage system would be very finicky and probably lack strength and durability. We also did a mock up of a webbing system linking both bellows, also quite hard to manipulate with PPE gear.  
          In parallel, we experimented with different webbings and gros grains, to see how they behaved when assembled with a walking foot. We also tried different sizes of eyelets. In order to be able to flatten the pocket, we decided to utilize the common horizontal seem that is located above the knee reinforcement padding on the pant leg. We did a slide in pocket to tuck in the bottom of the cargo pocket and keep it flattened when there is no need for the full pocket's volume or a drainage system. The pocket stays in place thanks to the fabric curving around the user's thigh. 
          We realized, however, that this pocket (for the pocket) will accumulate water, regardless of when in use or not. Any further research of this design will need to solution this issue, so that the water has an exit canal from the protective garment. 
          It was very interesting to try to tackle this dilemma of reinventing, or thinking differently of a pocket that has been done exactly the same way for years, and yet is the cause of much dissatisfaction with the user. I am sure there is a lot more work to do on these pocket concepts and hope to keep researching within the frame of my capstone project on turnout pants for female firefighters. 

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