The modern firefighter needs gloves that are made for the job they are tasked to perform, but, with recent changes to the rules covering PPE, are the gloves currently issued to firefighters compliant and fit for purpose?
Ask any firefighter what the most important part of their anatomy is and, perhaps after a few seconds thought, they will say their hands. In an emergency, hands need the highest levels of protection, together with both flexibility and dexterity. Many hand injuries in the field are caused by firefighters removing their gloves to carry on with their duties because the gloves that they have been issued with are not specific to the task that they are being asked to undertake. If protective clothing is not the right fit for the job, it will be a hindrance rather than a help. Modern PPE companies are aware that protective clothing must now be designed carefully to give protection against the dangers faced in the field, and glove manufacturers have a task more difficult than most, as no single glove can cover all aspects of modern firefighting.
The risks faced by the firefighter at buildings or other close-proximity fires are different to those faced by wildland firefighters or at road traffic accidents and other types of technical rescues. Gloves must protect from radiant and contact heat, flames, compression burns, cuts, punctures, chemicals, viral infections and many other risks and hazards. Add the growing need for touchscreen fingers for rescue gloves and the importance of washability and it is clear that one glove cannot do it all. According to evidence from the Fire and Rescue Service, hand injuries have been reduced by up to 40% in those firefighters who wear the specific and correct hand PPE for the job.
Protective and waterproof structural firefighters’ gloves are now required to meet the stringent standards set out in EN659:2003 + A1:2008. Classified as Category III PPE, structural firefighting gloves must be independently tested by an approved notified authority both prior to launch and during production. Full testing and certification via a Module B, EU Type examination certificate must be carried out once every five years and production must be monitored on an annual basis either via Module C2 (selective testing) or Module D (factory audit) surveillance. Without this, structural fire gloves may not be certified to the current standards and fire and rescue services that do not ask for evidence of both pre-production certification and post-production surveillance leave themselves open to potential risk.
Rescue gloves must have excellent grip in both wet and dry conditions and provide users with good levels of dexterity to handle precision tools used at such incidents. The best and most up-to-date protection available for these gloves requires designs to be compliant with the higher levels of EN388:2016 + A1:2018 and products certified to this standard are classified as Category II PPE items and subject to assessment every five years.
Wildland firefighting gloves have no need for waterproof inserts but must be lightweight as well as protective and breathable. While many wildland firefighters have traditionally been expected to work in their structural kit, the conditions faced by these specialist individuals means that the potential for heat stress is ever present. Reducing the weight load while maintaining protective properties is the key and new standards such as ISO 16073:2019 try to address this.
All PPE must be updated to the latest version of published standards to be fully compliant under the PPE Regulations which took over from the PPE Directive during 2018. Protective gloves can only be sold in the UK with a valid CE mark, and from January 2022 as a direct consequence of Brexit, PPE can only be sold with a valid UKCA mark.
In the modern world of firefighting, washability and ease of both decontamination and maintenance are essential. Washability, however, must be proven via third-party testing, where a duplicate set of physical assessment tests are undertaken on post-washed gloves. To pass the testing, post-washed gloves must match protective results on virgin, unwashed gloves and while this can be expensive, it provides manufacturers with the only route to promoting gloves as truly washable garments.
Glove suppliers can be found throughout the world, but there are only a handful of manufacturers producing protective gloves for the Emergency Services that can truly be considered a cut above the rest. One of these is based in the south-west of England where they have been for over 170 years. Established in 1847, Southcombe Brothers Ltd continue to produce gloves on their original site with a dedicated team of skilled staff. But it is not just about gloves for this family firm; Southcombe uniquely also own their own tannery from where most of the leather for their gloves is produced.
Pyrohide leather is a British cowhide leather that is manufactured via a proprietary formulation to be resistant to fire, heat, water and chemicals. It is fully machine washable and remains highly tactile in both wet and dry conditions plus it dries soft. But protection is not only derived from the exterior shell; structural firefighting gloves made by Southcombe incorporate a dual lining combining a heat-resistant inner, which is laminated to a British-made, seam-sealed Porelle PTFE/PU moisture vapour permeable insert.
‘Making a firm bond between the heat-resistant liners and inserts is essential to ensure that linings stay inside gloves for their entire working life,’ explains Malcolm Hannon, the Design and Business Development Manager for Southcombe. ‘Gloves where linings detach from the outer shell are of no use to firefighters, but there is no need to worry as Southcombe use a method of lamination that permanently fixes the linings to the inserts, which are then stitched into the outers, and each and every pair are checked by trained staff.’ Southcombe are so sure of their methods that they offer gloves with a lifetime warranty against lining inversion providing end users with peace of mind on that front.
Southcombe will be displaying a full range of fire and rescue gloves on their stand (F75) at the Emergency Services Show at the NEC in Birmingham on 7 and 8 September. If you are interested in gloves or happen to be in the market for some hand protection, please come by and check out the range.
For more information, go to www.southcombe.com