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With 2009 on the horizon, departments must ensure that they are current with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards. There are four areas to be aware of: bunker gear; apparatus; PASS; and SCBA.

December 5, 2008 
By James Careless

Keeping on top of NFPA guidelines for bunker gear, apparatus, PASS alarms and SCBA


With 2009 on the horizon, departments must ensure that they are current with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards. There are four areas to be aware of: bunker gear; apparatus; PASS; and SCBA. Here’s an outline of each, with explanations from NFPA Canadian regional director Sean Tracey and FFIC Truck Checks columnist Don Henry, who is also the chair of the IAFC’s apparatus maintenance section and a principal member of the NFPA 1071 emergency vehicle technician professional qualifications standard committee.

■ Bunker gear
Issued in 2007 and due for revision in 2010, NFPA 1971: Standard on Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting details requirements for bunker wear. This standard is derived from investigations into why firefighters have been injured or killed in the line of duty. In the present standard, “there is now an option that specifies what is required for a suit to be deemed ‘CBRN-compliant’,” says Sean Tracey. “This is a response to the threat of terrorist-created CBRN incidents. I do not expect many Canadian departments to select this option. But for those operating in major cities and/or industrial areas, knowing what it takes for bunker gear to be CBRN-compliant is extremely useful.”

All bunker gear built to meet NFPA 1971 will come with a handle/strap attached to the back exterior of each coat to allow rescuers to drag the wearer to safety should he lose consciousness on the job. “We have also seen the standard revised to require improved reflective trim and increased protection against scalding,” says Tracey. “NFPA 1971-compliant bunker gear must also provide better protection against heat on elbows, knees and harness points, where fabric compression can effectively thin the distance between the skin and the heat.”


Worth noting: NFPA 1851: Standard on Selection, Care and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting has tightened the lifespan rules for bunker gear. Under the new standard, suits must be retired after 10 years of service no matter how well they have been maintained. The reason: even the best-kept suits deteriorate over time as their protective materials degrade due to aging and exposure to heat.

New rules mean bunker gear needs to be
replaced every 10 years, no matter how well it’s taken care of, due to
wear and tear on the fabric that can result in deterioration of the
protective materials.

■ Apparatus
NFPA 1901: Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus (issued for 2009, revision due in 2013) deals with the biggest ticket items, as far as departments are concerned. (Note: Canadian departments can order apparatus based on either NFPA or ULC standards. The new NFPA 1901 is different in some areas from the ULC S515 standard, so be sure to check both before ordering.)

Here’s what you need to know: Enhanced firefighter safety has driven changes to NFPA 1901. This is why apparatus sold after Jan. 1 must carry vehicle data recorders, which will track operational data over the equipment’s last 48 hours of use. Data recorded includes rate of acceleration or deceleration, engine speed, seats occupied and seatbelt status (worn or not). There’s good reason for this: Two-thirds of volunteer firefighters killed in apparatus incidents were not wearing seatbelts. NFPA 1901-compliant apparatus must have an audible seatbelt warning alarm plus visual alerts for driver/officer positions.

That’s not all: NFPA 1901 requires new apparatus to undergo more rigorous stability testing, or have a stability system installed. New maximum speeds will also be automatically enforced by the truck’s operating system based on its maximum vehicle weight and whether it is  a water/foam apparatus.

Standardized reflective markers are now the norm on apparatus, with at least half or more of the truck’s rear being covered in reflective material. NFPA 1901 also requires each new truck to have one reflective traffic vest for each seating position, five fluorescent orange traffic cones, five illuminated warning devices and one automatic external defibrillator.

“For many years, rural Canadian departments did not follow NFPA 1901 for cost reasons,” says Don Henry. “Thankfully, this has changed, a fact helped by the Canadian ULC S515 standard becoming much tougher in recent years.”

Even though the new NFPA 1901 does diverge from ULC S515 in some respects, the overall trend is for Canadian departments to pay attention to the safety requirements that each outlines and work to meet them, he adds. “When it comes to electrical, building or plumbing standards fire departments fall over themselves to meet the standards,” says Henry. “When it comes to how to build the truck it’s still a bit of a fight, but it is getting better.”

■ PASS alarms

NFPA 1982: Standard on Personal Alert Safety Systems (PASS), (issued 2007; due for revision 2011) addresses a very serious problem with PASS equipment, namely that PASS units that passed rigorous laboratory testing were failing in service due to heat and/or water. “At least 15 firefighter fatalities have been traced to PASS failures,” Tracey says. “As it turns out, the problem is that the laboratory testing conditions did not encompass the full range of extremes found in a fire situation. To respond to this, NFPA 1982 toughens up PASS testing procedures so these units meet realistic fire scene conditions.”

NFPA 1981: Standard on Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) for Emergency Services was issued in 2007 and is due for revision in 2011. In its current form, NFPA 1981 calls for SCBA wearers to have access to a second air-pressure indicator in addition to the one shown in their heads-up display. “Basically, the fire services that helped us write NFPA 1981 were not comfortable with having such data solely displayed on the SCBA facemask,” Tracey says. “They wanted an element of redundancy, which is why a second air-pressure indicator – such as a handheld gauge visible to the wearer – has been mandated.”

New SCBA gear will also have to meet National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health standards, even in Canada. In fact, NFPA and NIOSH are jointly certifying SCBA gear as suitable for CBRN environments. “This adds an extra level of complexity to the testing system, but ensures that NFPA 1981-compliant SCBA will work in CBRN situations,” Tracey says. “The result is a better level for protection for firefighters wearing SCBA equipment.”

■ The bottom line
When your jurisdiction is buying new equipment, study the NFPA standards
carefully. Moreover, demand that the vendors who approach you provide detailed proof that they are NFPA compliant. For more information on NFPA standards, visit .

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