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What's New in EMS Apparel

By Dan White

New fabric designs, coatings, and garment designs are rapidly changing the look of EMS professionals. The last 20 years have taught us a lot about what NOT to wear on duty. Our first problem is the fundamental style of most EMS uniforms. Many of these are really police uniforms, which are evolutions of military designs.

Sometimes the only difference between the medics' and cops' uniforms is the fabric color. Shirts often feature scalloped pockets, button down square epaulets, permanent creases, and other design features of police uniforms because that's what they are.

The intoxicated patient can react to these styling cues and easily mistake you for a cop. This can be dangerous in the first few seconds of an encounter. I've always found that dealing with problematic patients gets easier once they understand you are not the law. Your uniform should make communicating that fact instantaneous when you walk in the door.

Many agencies are still wearing dark colors that cannot be easily seen at night. Perhaps if we had great looking high-visibility shirts and coats — regardless of the season or circumstance — we would be safer. The challenge is creating professional, functional, and great-looking high-visibility uniforms for American EMS providers. They have been doing it for years in Europe.

The other problem with many EMS uniforms is that they are often very uncomfortable. We work in a physically demanding profession. We often compound heat stress by wearing older-style polyester fabrics and poly-cotton blends. The old polyester uniforms I've often been issued are miserable in the summer. What we really need are comfortable garments that give us the ability to efficiently do our very physical type of work. We also work outside in the weather and are frequently exposed to sources of fabric stains. We really need uniforms that both repel fluids and wick perspiration away.

There have been some important new developments in fabric manufacturing and fabric coating technology. Some of these new technologies offer EMS valuable new benefits. Many of these new fabrics were first used to make golfing apparel and other high performance outdoor sports apparel. These newest generation synthetics often have wicking properties and are now breathable. They bring a new level of comfort without sacrificing durability. There are now several excellent examples already on the market.

Spiewak™ recently introduced their leading edge SPDU, Spiewak Performance Duty Uniforms. They are manufactured from new performance polyester material, which has amazing mechanical stretch properties. It also features a nanotechnology fiber coating, which makes these uniforms fluid resistant, too. This is about the most advanced duty uniform I have ever seen. The feel, the look, the function are all best in class. For more information, see http://www.spiewak.com/.

Atlanco™ recently introduced a new 24-7 line of performance uniforms with the Tru-Spec brand label. Its new 24-7 Series brand — such as the 60 percent cotton, 40 percent performance polyester polo shirt — is breathable and wicks moisture away. It also has an anti-microbial treatment for odor control. I've been wearing them for over a year now, and it's my favorite summer shirt. They wick moisture away from your body yet feel like the richest of cotton fabrics.

Another good example of the latest in shirt fabrics is the Perfection Uniforms™ Eclipse Series polo shirt. This performance polyester shirt introduces a whole new uniform look. The styling details do not share one design line with police apparel. It features epaulets more like a racecar driver's suit than a police shirt. The pockets, penholder, microphone clip, and styling details create a very different look. Russell Mills specially developed the innovation pique weave performance-poly material of the Eclipse for sports apparel. Like other modern fabrics of this type, the shirt is very comfortable and wicks perspiration away from your skin.

Elbeco™ offers the outstanding Ufx Performance Tactical Polo. This is my favorite long-sleeve polo. It's a rugged high-performance poly with Xeede™ moisture control and anti-microbial technology. I love its expensive look and feel, almost like silk. One additional benefit is that they pack great. For more information, visit http://www.Elbeco.com.

There are also a lot of new duty pants available. One recent and widespread trend is pants designed with a much better fit. Truspec™ offers their comfortable 24-7 Tactical Pants. I particularly like the version in cotton/nylon blend. This lightweight yet very durable fabric is sort of a rip-stop looking material. It’s comfortable and moves with you, yet launders well and holds a nice crease. The pocket design and configuration allows for a completely casual appearance while providing secure storage for your personal gear. They have a comfort fit slider waistband, too. For more information, see http://www.atlanco.com.

511 Tactical™ is even better known for casual fitting duty apparel. Their TacLite pants are worn by many in both law enforcement and EMS. They have also recently made a number of improvements to their female pants. For many years, women in EMS have had trouble getting pants to fit correctly. Maybe one reason is that we asked them to wear men's pants? To learn more check out http://www.511tactical.com.

Perfection Uniforms™ also makes the Stratus Series Trousers. They feature the Perfection EGC System (Ergonomic Garment Construction), providing enhanced comfort, mobility, and extended wear life. The EGC System includes heavy duty hidden elastic waistband construction, expanding 2-4 inches as necessary. It also has a "Crotch Construction" with a one piece diamond shaped gusset for multi-directional stretch, mobility and extended wear life. Check out the full EGC system at www.perfectionuniformsstore.com.

Many of these new high-performance fabrics promise to keep us cleaner, drier, and much more comfortable. This is especially important for EMS providers doing a difficult and physically demanding job. There are even new fabrics with both comfort and flame resistance. Anybody who has ever worn a Nomex jumpsuit knows how hot it can get in the summer.

Blauer™ now offers a new fabric called Kermel V50, which is a 50/50 blend of Kermel Aramid and Lenzing fire retardant rayon. V50 offers superior comfort and permanent flame retardant properties that cannot be washed out or worn away with use. When exposed to high heat and flames, Kermel V50 carbonizes and thickens, increasing the protective barrier between the heat source and the skin. Visit www.blauer.com to view the full line of Blauer uniforms.

These are a few of the newest features and fabric technologies now available for EMS. While many were driven by the demands of much larger markets, they do hold a lot of promise for EMS providers. If you are still wearing miserably uncomfortable cop-looking uniforms, now is a great time to take a fresh look at what's available. Some of our best apparel suppliers have recently brought many new fabric technologies to our industry. The result is a whole new generation of EMS uniforms that look better and work better while offering vastly improved comfort.

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