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How NFPA 1500 Applies to First Responder PPE

By Jeffrey O. and Grace G. Stull

Fully implementing NFPA 1500, especially sections addressing PPE, is a major focus of Fire/EMS Safety, Health and Survival Week.

The first edition of NFPA 1500 Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program was published in 1987 when there were no consensus standards for an occupational safety and health program for the fire service.

Before its introduction, fire service organizations were being increasingly subjected to regulations that were developed for general industry, which did not address their specific needs and concerns. Part of the origin for NFPA 1500 came with the documentation and reporting of direct line-of-duty deaths and growing concerns for the number of firefighters who were suffering disabling injuries or developing occupational diseases.

NFPA 1500 was established to specify minimum fire service criteria in a variety of areas including emergency operations, facility safety, apparatus safety, critical incident stress management, medical/physical requirements, member fitness/wellness, and use of PPE Revised editions were published in 1992, 1997, 2002 and last year.

NFPA 1500 is a Standard to ensure the implementation of practices by fire departments and other emergency response organizations for improving firefighter health and safety. Chapter seven of the current edition covers protective clothing and protective equipment. The Standard references NFPA Standards developed for specific items of PPE. General criteria include:

  • Selecting protective clothing and equipment based on an assessment of the hazards in operating areas to which firefighters are likely to be exposed.
  • Providing firefighters with the correct PPE appropriate to the expected exposure hazards.
  • Wearing of station/work uniforms that comply with NFPA 1975 and ensuring that firefighters do not wear any unsafe clothing as part of any emergency operations.

Several sections within chapter seven address the use of specific protective clothing and equipment for specific fire service missions:

Structural Firefighting
Departments are required to use complete protective ensembles (garments, helmets, hoods, gloves, and footwear) that comply with NFPA 1971. For the wearing of garments, the standard specifies that the coat should overlap the pants by 2 inches in all three layers, in different orientations (reaching overhead and bending with arms reaching side to side and to the back).

Fire departments using coats that have wristlets are required to use gauntlet style gloves, while organizations that employ coats without wristlets must use gloves with wristlets or provide a suitable interface to ensure complete protection of the firefighters’ wrists, lower arms and hands. Cleaning of structural firefighting protective clothing is required at least every six months using qualified facilities to perform this cleaning in accordance with NFPA 1851 (Note: This requirement was not updated to the new annual cleaning requirement that was imposed as part of the latest edition of NFPA 1851). In-house cleaning must meet requirements in NFPA 1581, Standard on Fire Department Infection Control Program.

Proximity Firefighting
Similar criteria are specified for the wearing of an NFPA 1971-compliant protective ensemble for proximity firefighting, including the requirement for overlap between coat and pants. In addition, fire departments are required to address concerns related to the high radiant heat exposure of the SCBA if worn on the outside of the ensemble and required to provide additional protective covers if this hazard exists.

PPE for Other Mission Areas
NFPA 1500 specifies use of clothing and equipment meeting definite mission requirements in other fire service areas, including the use of compliant PPE for wildland firefighting (NFPA 1977), emergency medical operations (NFPA 1999), technical rescue (NFPA 1951), and hazardous materials operations (NFPA 1991, 1992, and 1994).

In each mission area, the Standard specifies the conditions under which different clothing items or ensembles should be used. For example, firefighters are instructed to use NFPA 1999-compliant examination gloves before engaging in any emergency patient care but are permitted to substitute work gloves if significant physical hazards are present. NFPA 1500 also specifies ensemble selection criteria such as deciding when to use a liquid splash protective ensemble (meeting NFPA 1992) over a vapor-protective ensemble (certified to NFPA 1991).

Respiratory Protection
Fire departments are required to implement a respiratory protection program that address selection, care, maintenance, and use of respirators, including SCBA and other devices, adhering to NFPA 1852 and NFPA 1989 for breathing air quality. SCBA must meet NFPA 1981 and must have certifications that are at least current to the 1992 edition of that standard. Closed-circuit SCBA must have a minimum 2-hour rated service life and operate in a positive pressure mode only.

Supplied air respirators can only be used in immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH) atmospheres when equipped with an emergency escape cylinder. Full facepiece air-purifying respirators are only usable for non-IDLH conditions for specific contaminants to which the respirator has been certified. All members of a department must undergo fit testing prior to using SCBA and other respirators. Additional criteria are established for use of corrective lenses, wearing of hoods and helmets, and the types of acceptable SCBA cylinders and filling practices.

Other Protective Devices
NFPA 1500 sets requirements for the use of personal alert safety systems (PASS) devices, requiring their use for all emergency operations and testing of the devices on a weekly basis. In addition, criteria are established for the use of life safety rope, eye and face protection devices, and hearing protection.

Compliance with all the provisions of NFPA 1500 is important to ensure consistent, high levels of safety and health for firefighters. In particular, NFPA 1500 is the sole standard that establishes several critical requirements related to the use of specific PPE for protecting firefighters during different missions. A thorough understanding and complete implementation of NFPA 1500 is credited with reducing firefighter fatalities and limiting fireground injuries.

Jeffrey O. Stull is President of International Personnel Protection, Inc., which provides expertise on the design, evaluation, selection and use of personnel protective clothing, equipment and related products to end users and manufacturers. He is considered one of the leading experts in the field of personal protective equipment.