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New trends in EMS uniforms and apparel

There have been a range of notable changes in EMS apparel since the early days of the industry

By Dan White

There have been several important new trends in EMS apparel. Some of the more notable are in the area of fabric technology and where things are sewn.

As everyone knows, the big change of the last 20 years is that now most uniform apparel is being made offshore. Only a handful of uniform manufacturers today continue to offer products made in America. This is exactly where many of the most exciting developments in fabric technology are created. Driven by the needs of outdoor sportsmen, mariners and the military, many have unique application in our fun and tumble EMS environment.

Image SpiewakThe Spiewak Performance EMS Duty Pant combines a classic formal appearance with a high-technology fabric.
Image SpiewakThe Spiewak Performance EMS Duty Pant combines a classic formal appearance with a high-technology fabric.

This all started in 1974 with the invention of Gore-Tex, by WL Gore. Since then there have been many new breathable, lightweight, and durable fabrics developed. Some of the latest include eVENT and its revolutionary PTFE membrane and Toray Entrant G2 XT, a microporous hydrophobic polyurethane fabric. Another WL Gore product — Crosstech — has also made many fans in EMS. Some of these fabrics are making a huge impact on the apparel industry generally and EMS specifically.

Clothing and Outerwear for EMS was just awful when I started in EMS. Back then we wore white shirts with navy pants and a navy blue necktie. The 100% polyester shirts with sewn-in creases wore like iron, but felt like sandpaper against your skin. They also made you sweat in the summer. The polyester pants were also virtual sauna suits. Our coats were thin nylon shells that were neither windproof nor very water resistant. Today with more casual styles and more modern fabrics we have much more functional and comfortable uniform options.

For those who want to maintain a dressier uniform look, check out the Performance Duty line by Speiwak. A classic formal appearance is combined with the highest technology fabrics. The combination of breath-ability, and nanotechnology providing water and stain resistance is hard to beat. Both the pants and shirts have a crisp professional look with much better performance and comfort.

There has been a recent trend towards more casual uniform wear, which has come about as our contemporary fashion has gotten more casual. For a casual polo shirt style uniform check out the Performance Polo from 511 Tactical, the TRUSPEC 24-7 Polo from Atlanco, the Elbeco Ufx Performance Tactical Polo, and Perfection Uniforms Eclipse Polo. These modern woven polyesters and poly-cotton blends are amazingly comfortable and are now my work or casual wear favorites. Some of these new polyester fabrics feel like silk, breath like cotton, and wick moisture to the surface and away from your skin.

For those preferring a classic multi-pocket EMS pant, there are many great versions available. Pants designed to better fit women is one big new development. For years all my female partners complained about the horrible fit of the male pants they were forced to wear. Two good examples of female specific EMS pants are the AllMed Perfect Fit pants and 511 Taclite EMS pants. Both offer a low waist cut more appealing to younger women today.

For the guys there are many choices, from budget priced to the feature rich. Some of the features to look for and evaluate like a gusseted crotch, expanding comfort waistband, doubled cuffs and more are detailed here. My advice is to select the fabric first, and then the fit and features. This will help you get the quality you desire at a price you can live with. Some of the bigger distributors like AllMed, Galls, and EMP, offer a virtual shopping mall full of choices.

Another big trend has been better looking high visibility coats, with many of the more popular designs becoming ANSI compliant. Gerber Outerwear, IE Spewak, AllMed, and have all produced innovative outerwear solutions. Class 3 coats are basically almost all-yellow, with little visual appeal. I'm fond of saying most of them make everybody look like a fat banana.

Class 2 coats, while usually having less yellow fabric, still meet the needs of EMS providers yet can be more creative in design with the use of contrasting colors. As a result, a Class 2 high-visibility coat can be really great looking too.

Good examples are the Gerber Eclipse Jacket, 511 Responder Hi-Vis Parka, and AllMed Ultra-X and Summit, which (full disclosure) I helped design. Let's face it: yellow is hard to keep clean. That is why you will often see dark colors used on high-wear areas. The other reason color-blocking is used is to create a better looking garment.

The Gerber Extreme Parka is Class 3 hi-visibility certified, rough-weather ready and great looking. It has a waterproof breathable Blood Born Pathogen Resistant Bio Tex Barrier and is ANSI 107:2010 Class III compliant.

The design features two-tone lime yellow with navy accents. It has black edge sewn on reflective striping around the chest, waist, lower and upper arms. Features include a concealable hood, side equipment zippers for access to gear and pant pockets, two-way lower cargo pockets, and a clever radio wire management system that conceals the coiled cord while the radio speaker/mic attaches to the shoulder tabs.

The big news this year in outerwear is the styling. Designers and manufacturers have finally gotten the message from the field. Medics want great looking and functional outwear.. Many of these latest offerings have a great, safe, and professional appearance. Even better is they don't look like police coats. This by itself will almost certainly save somebody from being hurt on the job.

Another advancement has come from the military use of advanced cold weather layering systems. Long underwear has gone high tech too. For those who work in cold weather a lot, using a modern base layer, fleece mid layer, with a water and windproof shell is what works best for many. Check out the Tru-Spec GENIII underwear when you are tired of being cold. Also check out the offerings at 511 Tactical and their distributors.

Footwear is another area where materials innovation and improved comfort have been major driving forces. Many companies now offer hardworking boots actually built for public safety. I tend to prefer high-end boots like Redback, Danner or Haix, for years of faithful service. Better fit and function, using mostly waterproof materials have become the new normal.

For real EMS I wear Redback's Rescue Boot. Other great examples of new high-tech duty boots are the Bates CT-8 Durashocks Crosstech Side Zip Boot, Globe FootGear NFPA Certified Boots, HAIX Rescue U.S., and the Thorogood Side Zip Boot. I usually wear a short pull-on light duty station boot called the Redback Retro. The pull-on station boot has been interpreted by almost every boot company today. The reason is they are crazy comfortable, convenient, and decent looking.

The Retro Chef Shoe was first built for the restaurant industry where folks are moving and on their feet the entire workday. The nonslip sole offers incredible traction under all conditions. They are like wearing an oil-tanned waterproof leather pull on high-top tennis shoe. They feel like racing gloves made for my feet. The other big plus is they are waterproof.

The Haix Airpower R7 is a different take on the same station boot concept expressed in a whole new way. It is a German engineered sneaker on steroids. The features include CROSSTECH, bloodborne pathogen resistance and chemical resistance, with a protective toe cap and additional TPU toe cap, a puncture protection rubber sole which is non marking, antistatic, extremely slip resistant and heat resistant.

EMS uniforms have made huge improvements in recent years. They are a heck of a lot more comfortable, and make aspects of doing a tough job a lot easier. This year brought us new great looking uniforms that are finally comfortable to work in, thanks mostly to recent advancements in fabric technology. As the pace of development continues, we have to wonder what comes next.

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