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Product development  

Oct/Nov 2022

Product Development:
Female Turnout Pants for Structural Firefighting

   - Human-centered design approach
   - Advanced production techniques 
   - Pattern modification

   - Ergonomic observation
   - Fitting

Female adequate Personal Protective Clothing (PPC) 
for Structural Firefighters

“How could PPE be better adapted, thus safer and 
more performance enabling 
for female firefighters?”

          The intent of this project is to analyze and define shortcomings in Personal Protective Clothing (PPC) for female users in structural firefighting. While complex to prove, it has been assessed that ill-fitted equipment causes female firefighters to be more at risk of injuries and subject to a higher intensity physical exertion than their male counterparts. Throughout this research project, I aim to identify the main issues, and design a piece of protective clothing tailored to the users specific needs. This should result in enhanced protection, alongside increased comfort and efficiency on the job. 

The objective is to improve the safety, comfort, and mobility of female firefighters by designing a PPE specifically designed for their needs.

Project Brief

Problem definition:

          While the NFPA 1751 guidelines state that all PPE manufacturers should offer a female fit for Turnout coats and pants, the specific requirements to this close are quite blurry, only reducing male measurements to a smaller measurement bracket. The reason behind this could be the absence of anthropometric data specific to female firefighters. The current women’s fit offered by manufacturers are based on an average female body, not the average build of a female firefighter. This results in inaccurate fit despite manufacturers efforts to make more adequate protective gear. In addition, female fit were developed as a variant, or by-product, of the original male firefighter turnout gear, meaning the garment construction, or placement of key features such as pockets, has not been questioned and rethought, to answer a female physiology and ergonomics. Lastly, such female fits are not always made available to female firefighters, for lack of budget, time, or simply a too small number of female members. It is important to note that when available to them, many female firefighters still choose a male turn ensemble, or at least male trousers, over the fit designed for them. Taking into account the major anthropometric differences between male and female firefighters, and the critical character of PPC against the dangers such users are exposed to, this choice demonstrates a clear lack of adequacy of the available gear on the market.

User-base and market

           Users are structural female firefighters in BC, Canada. Tasks needing to be completed include:

 - fire interventions,

 - car extractions,

 - confined space rescue,

 - emergency medical assistance,

 - forcible entry.
This leads to the need for a wide range of movements including driving, running, operating hoses or heavy machinery, kneeling, crawling, climbing, stepping over/ under unstable objects or debris, lifting, and overhead arm movements.
          There are only a reduced number of PPE manufacturers, established for the quality of their products. Construction and manufacturing knowledge from established PPE brands such as InnoTex, or Starfield Lion will be invaluable for the progress of this project. 

Design Requirements 

          All turnout coats and pants are composed of three protective layers: 

  • Outer shell: protective barrier against flame, abrasion & tears. 

  • Moisture barrier: thin inner layer preventing chemicals, water & blood borne pathogens from entering the garment & facilitating moisture regulation away from the body. 

  • Thermal liner:  constituting the main protection against heat.​

These core components and materials cannot be altered. In addition, any design iteration must take into account all the components of a full PPE set: Protective hood, helmet, SCBA Mask and pack, gloves, boots, and harness. Utmost attention must be put into interface areas such as cuffs, and neck. Due to the dangerous character of this profession, all PPC needs to comply with previously cited regulations, and be tested repeatedly. As mentioned previously, it cannot sway away from the current aesthetics of firefighting PPC.

Meredith McQuerry & Cassandra Kwan - NFPA webinar on female PPC shortcomings

               Luckily, a few people have identified this issue, including Dr. Meredith McQuerry (Florida State University) and Dr. Cassandra Kwon (North Carolina State University), currently gathering female firefighters’ anthropometric data, via 3D scanners, in order to fill in the lack of information regarding female users. Once aware of characteristics of the bodies female PPC needs to be designed for, there will be a huge opportunity to design a turnout ensemble that, while similar to the man’s uniform, will fit users properly and be designed for their specific protective and mobility needs. 

          Thanks to their ongoing study : surveys, focus groups, manufacturers interviews, and 3D scanning of female firefighters; McQuerry and Kwon, identified that the strongest turnout gear dissatisfactions and difficulties originated from the turnout pants, most specifically the crotch area.  

Ergonomic considerations

               In addition to the female form often being forgotten when it comes to the design of firefighting personal protective equipment, there is no database corresponding to a female firefighter body type. Due to the high physical intensity of the profession, a typical female firefighter's body shape will be different to an average North American female body. However, no information has even been gathered on the ergonomic data of female firefighters, both in Structural and Wildland firefighting. As a result, PPE manufacturers intending to design female protective apparel are working in the dark, on a measurement chart that is inadequate and probably quite dated.

Observations & human-centered approach