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This site will focus on first responder safety equipment and gear including Fire fighting tools, personnel protective equipment, high angle gear, safety equipment anything and everything for first responders including Federal Government, Municipality, Volunteer, Private contractors, Hazardous materials teams, structual Firefighters, wildland Firefighters and Rescue crews. Also articles on training and educational opportunities for the Fire Service, EMT, Rescue, disaster response.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Government Resources for Firefighter PPE – Part 1

We often joke about the phrase, "Hi, I'm here from the government, and I am here to help you." Jokes surrounding the phrase focus on the differences between Joe Firefighter's expectations and the reality of the government support that is actually provided.

But all too often some aspects of truly worthwhile government programs are overlooked and it's easy to forget that there are some roles that only the government can fulfill in an unbiased and reasonable fashion. There is a range of federal government activity that supports fire service protective clothing and equipment programs.

Within the arena of government-supported PPE programs, the first area that many firefighters will identify are the grant programs, whereby individual departments are able to apply for funds to acquire equipment and supplies, which often includes protective clothing and equipment. The basis for some of these programs is to outfit jurisdictions throughout the country for domestic preparedness purposes.

As the most well known grant program for the fire service, grants from the FIRE Act or Assistance to Firefighters Grant program currently remain secure with increased funding over the past several years. The FIRE Act grant program has provided many fire and rescue agencies with critically needed equipment.

Naturally, the national fire service organizations remain in active leadership roles for the peer review for the FIRE Act Grant applications. In order to succeed in getting grant monies, fire departments must conduct a needs assessment to determine what category of the FIRE Act Grant program best benefits their community. The government offers several grant seminars that are described on ww.usfa.fema.gov, and there are several other fire news resources out there such as FireGrantsHelp.com.

The purchase of PPE through grant programs over the past several years has been limited to products that meet relevant standards. Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HSPD-8), enacted in 2003, requires that all PPE meet specific standards if federal funds are used for its purchase. This directive is positioned for strengthening the preparedness of the United States first responder community for contending with domestic terrorism threats.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has further adopted specific standards for emergency response personal protective equipment that include:

  • Structural and proximity firefighting protective ensembles (NFPA 1971)
  • Self-contained breathing apparatus meeting chemical/biological protection requirements (NFPA 1981)
  • Technical rescue protective ensembles (NFPA 1951)
  • Hazardous materials vapor-protective ensembles (NFPA 1991)
  • Hazardous materials liquid splash protective ensembles (NFPA 1992)
  • First responder chemical/biological protective ensembles (NFPA 1994)
  • Emergency medical protective clothing (NFPA 1999)

In order to better define first responder equipment needs, government organizations established and continue to support the InterAgency Board (IAB) for Equipment Standardization and Inter-Operability.

The IAB is a user-working group supported by voluntary participation from various local, state, federal government and private organizations. Its mission is to establish and coordinate local, state and federal standardization, inter-operability and responder safety to prepare for, respond to, mitigate and recover from any incident by identifying requirements for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear or Explosives (CBRNE) incident response equipment.

Its scope is expanding to cover all hazards associated with first response such as floods, hurricanes and other natural disasters.

The IAB specifically supports the local, state, and federal responders’ efforts in homeland security by:

  • Serving in an advisory capacity to all federal agenciesacilitating integration among local, state and federal response communities to promote proper selection and use of the best available equipment and procedures to optimize safety, interoperability and efficiency
  • Developing, maintaining and updating a Standardized Equipment List (SEL), which provides the responder a reference to the type of equipment required to prepare for, respond to, mitigate, and recover from a CBRNE incident
  • Advocating for, assisting in, and promoting the development and implementation of performance criteria, standards and test protocols for SEL-listed CBRNE incident response equipment
  • Encouraging the coordination of local and state response communities with established military and federal acquisition programs for procurement of SEL-listed CBRNE incident response equipment
  • Identifying and prioritizing CBRNE incident response equipment requirements
  • Encouraging manufacturers, governmental, military and private agencies to sponsor priority research and development projects to satisfy local, state, and federal CBRNE incident response equipment requirements

In addition to state and local first responder organization representatives, the IAB's membership includes participants from the several federal agencies that have responsibilities in homeland security, including the Department of Justice, the Department of Defense, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security itself.

The primary output of the IAB is the Standardized Equipment List, known as the SEL. The SEL provides a list of the essential equipment items needed by local, state and federal organizations for domestic preparedness. In addition to identifying the types of the items to be used, the SEL establishes the minimum requirements for many of those items by setting requirements for conformance to specific standards.

The SEL addresses the equipment needs of firefighters, emergency medical service personnel, police and specialized response personnel. Many of the firefighter and first responder grant programs are now requiring or will shortly require use of the SEL as the source of information for submitting grant applications. As a consequence, organizations must make their requests for response equipment based on items that meet the requirements of the SEL.

The SEL is organized into the four areas representing the organization of the IAB. All listed personal protective equipment items are linked with existing standards in the 2005 edition of the SEL. This means that clothing and equipment must meet the appropriate standard in order to meet SEL requirements. In turn, only equipment that meets SEL requirements can be submitted as part of many grant applications. To aid the process of selecting personal protective equipment, the IAB has developed a matrix that shows the various types of CBRNE hazards and indicates how compliant ensembles — clothing and equipment — protect against those hazards.

Limited protection
While this matrix was originally development to recognize protective ensembles for CBRN hazards, it is important to note that some types of protective ensembles provide limited protection in WMD events. For example, structural firefighting protective clothing, in its current configuration for meeting NFPA 1971 requirements, provides no CBRNE protection, but may be useful in parts of the response following a CBRNE event. Similar caveats exist for ensembles and clothing compliant to NFPA 1951 (Urban Search and Rescue) and NFPA 1999 (Emergency Medical Operations).

The Department of Homeland Security further supports a comprehensive database for first responder equipment known as the Responder Knowledge Base (RKD). This database features the largest listing of personal protective equipment for the fire and other emergency services, with the database further incorporating listing of other first responder equipment.

Protective clothing and equipment items are described in detail, with particular information provided in specific fields of information for product characteristics and properties that allow comparison of products. Clothing and equipment that have been certified to various national consensus standards are emphasized over non-certified products. The database further provides information on relevant standards, grant programs and industry references.

The RKD also permits questions to be posed to industry experts and allows firefighters to get feedback on particular products, which have been reviewed by other end users. It also provides mission critical hints and other useful information that aids in the selection of personal protective equipment. Lastly, the RKB serves as a means for reporting problems with specific products and assists in notifying the certification organization and manufacturers of issues that may relate to product quality or performance.

The federal government is working to truly help the first responder industry, including the fire service. The above information only serves as a few examples of the types of tools that the government is undertaking to improve the health and safety of firefighters.

In the next article, additional government resources will be explored that include the effort of the NIOSH National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory and other organizations that support research directly focused on fire service health and safety improvements.

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2 comments:

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This site will focus on first responder safety equipment and gear including Fire fighting tools, personnel protective equipment, high angle gear, safety equipment anything and everything for first responders including Federal Government, Municipality, Volunteer, Private contractors, Hazardous materials teams, structual Firefighters, wildland Firefighters and Rescue crews. Also articles on training and educational opportunities for the Fire Service, EMT, Rescue, disaster response.