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Exploration of Firefighter Bunker Gear Part 2: Assessing the Needs of the Female Firefighter


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The purpose of this study was to evaluate user perceptions of firefighter personal protective equipment (PPE) to determine ways to improve PPE design and function for both male and female firefighters. No previous studies have included both male and female firefighters in identifying user needs. It is critical to consider the entire PPE that a firefighter wears in his or her work environments, due to the various items worn simultaneously, to ensure a system that is fully functional and minimizes impact on wearer work performance and comfort. A total of twelve focus group interviews were conducted of career and volunteer firefighters, utilizing 67 males and 22 females. Urban and rural companies were represented from five different states. To obtain more in-depth data than the focus group interviews allowed, three firefighters participated in individual follow-up interviews. All interviews were recorded, transcribed, and analyzed using thematic analysis methods to draw comparisons of perceptions and user needs shared by both male and female firefighters. Both male and female firefighters identified a number of similar concerns such as excessive weight of the PPE, heat stress, overprotection for non-fire calls, garment fit and restricted mobility, compression burns, and problems donning the PPE quickly. They also indicated concern about specific firefighter clothing features that did not function well for them, including pockets, fasteners, knee and suspender padding, as well as the durability of the materials used in the PPE. Further study is needed to determine optimum design changes that can improve firefighter PPE to maximize wearer protection, performance, and comfort.
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Article Designation: Refereed JTATM
Volume 8, Issue 2, Summer 2013
Volume 8, Issue 2, Summer2013
Exploration of Firefighter Bunker Gear
Part 2: Assessing the Needs of the Female Firefighter
Lynn M Boorady, Associate Professor
Fashion and Textile Technology
Department, State University of New York
Buffalo State
Jessica Barker, Assistant Professor
Department of Apparel, Educational Studies
and Hospitality Management
Iowa State University
Young-A Lee, Assistant Professor
Department of Apparel, Educational Studies
and Hospitality Management
Iowa State University
Shu-Hwa Lin, Associate Professor
Department of Family and Consumer
Sciences, University of Hawaii at Manoa
Eunjoo Cho, Lecturer,
Department of Apparel, Educational Studies
and Hospitality Management
Iowa State University
Susan P. Ashdown, Professor
Department of Fiber Science & Apparel
Design, Cornell University
Female firefighters are a minority in their workplace yet also need the same protective
equipment as their male counterparts. This research focused on the problems with their bunker
gear that female firefighters themselves have identified. Focus groups were held in around the
country and the comments made by female firefighters were analyzed. Data were organized by
identifying the most common problems areas. Five gear factors (i.e. garment design features,
sizing, fit, mobility, and fabrication) are discussed within two main constructs; function and
comfort. Suggestions on improving bunker gear for female firefighters include altering the fit
and sizing, as well as changing the location of pockets and enhancing the functionality of the
Keywords: firefighter, protective clothing, sizing
There are more than 1.1 million
firefighters in the United States, of which
approximately 800,000 are volunteers
(United States Fire Administration, 2012).
Among the 342,000 career firefighters in the
United States today, the United States
Department of Labor (2010) reports there
are slightly more than 12,000 (3.6%)
women. In 2008, a questionnaire study was
conducted of 675 firefighters in 48 states,
approximately half of which were female.
Follow up interviews were conducted with
175 women either individually or in focus
groups. Problems with ill-fitting equipment
were reported by 79.7% of the women from
this study, nearly four times higher than the
20.9% reported by men (Hulett, Bendick,
Thomas & Moccio, 2008).
Article Designation: Refereed JTATM
Volume 8, Issue 2, Summer 2013
Research of protective clothing for
firefighters is ongoing, yet there have been
few studies focused on female firefighters.
Standards exist for fabric performance,
design aspects of the garment (e. g., location
of reflective tape) and performance of
associated equipment, such as helmets,
hoods, gloves and boots. The National Fire
Protection Association (NFPA) publishes
required standards for structural firefighting
(NFPA, 2007). Standards specific to bunker
gear can be found in NFPA publication
1971. Firefighters need to be comfortable in
a garment that is fully functional so that they
can perform their duties without additional
risk or worry, yet no study has focused on
female user perceptions of and problems
with their gear. As first responders to an
emergency situation, their gear is critical
and their protection is paramount.
The purpose of this study was to
evaluate bunker gear currently worn by
female firefighters and determine areas
needing improvement, as exploration for
further design development. Firefighters
need protection from multiple hazards, and
perform a variety of job functions. Their
clothing systems must protect from thermal
and chemical hazards, without affecting
their mobility or work performance.
Clothing systems must be compatible with
other equipment, such as helmets, masks,
gloves and footwear. Provisions must be
made for additional equipment that the
firefighter might carry, such as an axe,
oxygen tank, ladder or hose. Resolving these
complex issues for the firefighting
community requires knowledge of current
equipment and garment performance,
current fit and safety issues, design analysis
of the current garment, prototype
development, testing, design and redesign in
order to find the optimal system.
In this research Rosenblad-Wallin’s
(1985) user-oriented approach to functional
clothing design is employed, beginning with
analysis of the demands that the product
(clothing) must meet in the use-situation as
described by the person who uses (wears)
the protective clothing. These demands can
be functional (protection and comfort) or
symbolic (self-esteem, confidence and group
membership) among others. The most
important step in this process is to acquire
detailed knowledge of the user, their
capacity and limitations, problems, wishes
and needs (Rosenblad-Wallin, 1985).
Therefore an extensive literature review,
focus group interviews with female
firefighters, and in-depth analysis to identify
critical areas needing improvement were
Prior to 1989, firefighters wore long
coats and hip boots for protection (LaBar,
1997). However as fires became more
dangerous firefighters needed to be more
aggressive (LaBar, 1997). Bunker gear, a
coat and pants combination, was developed
for better protection. The transition to
combination bunker gear was slow, with the
last department (Chicago, IL) adopting it in
2006 (Dudek, 2006).
Female firefighters, with few
exceptions, currently wear bunker gear
designed and sized for men. Expecting this
gear to fit women is unrealistic due to
sexually dimorphic body proportions. Eiser
(1988) states that there is an ongoing need to
develop protective equipment to ensure
proper fit and comfort and that safety issues
become more hazardous when the clothing
is too loose or ill-fitting.
Women firefighters are
underrepresented even in large fire
departments. As recent as 2005, Garden
Grove, CA with a population of almost
175,000 residents had no female firefighters
on their force (Hulett, et. al., 2008). In 2012,
New York City had 10,000 firefighters and
only 28 of them are female (Gardiner,
2012). Most of the research on women in the
field of firefighting focuses on their
physicality, and lack of acceptance in a male
dominated field. Only three studies were
found addressing female firefighters and
their gear specifically: Hulett, et al. (2008),
Schuster (2000) and Chetkovich, (1997).
Hulett et. al (2008) surveyed 114
departments nationwide and held in-depth
Article Designation: Refereed JTATM
Volume 8, Issue 2, Summer 2013
interviews with 175 female firefighters to
determine their acceptance in the field. One
of the issues they found was a lack of
support to purchase female-specific
protective gear even when available on the
Schuster (2000) stated that the lack
of appropriately sized protective equipment
is a source of stress for the smaller frames of
the female firefighters. Indeed, Chetkovich
(1997) states that “firefighting gear and
equipment (are) designed for a single sex
work force” and “ill-fitting uniforms,
gloves, boots and masks continue to make
the work not only more uncomfortable but
more difficult and dangerous” (p. 176).
Gender specific bunker gear was available
by 1997, however departments even now are
hesitant to purchase the gear as “it would not
fit anyone else if the female left the
department” (Gary Woodson, personal
The physical differences between
men and women have been well
documented. In Tilley’s 2002 book on
anthropometrics “The measures of a man
and a woman”, the 50th percentile male is
69.1” tall and weighs 172 lbs. Heights and
weights for men (98th percentile) range from
62.6” to 75.6” in height and from 100.3 lbs.
to 244 pounds. A female at the 50th
percentile is 64” tall and 137.5 lbs., and the
98th percentile range is between 58.1” to
69.8” in height and 93 to 217.6 lbs. in
Data analysis from SizeUSA
(Textile Clothing Technology Corporation,
2003), shows a difference in waist to hip
variation of men and women. A total of 359
women had waist circumferences between
27.5 inches and 28.49 inches. Within this
subset, hip circumference varied from 32.91
inches to 45.25 inches. This is a 12.34 inch
difference in hip circumference when the
waists varied only by one inch. By contrast,
32 men within SizeUSA with waist
circumferences between 27.5 inches and
28.49 inches had hip variations of only 5.08
inches. In the study by Gordon (1984), it
was found that female body dimensions
must be considered in the sizing and fit of
Army field uniforms. U.S. Army women
wore field uniforms designed for male
dimensions but scaled down for the women.
The result was unsatisfactory fit for the
women. Therefore a new sizing system was
developed to fit the needs for both
Semi-structured focus group
interviews were conducted to capture user
perceptions and group dynamics (Krueger,
1988). Qualitative methodologies, such as
focus group interviews, provide a deep
understanding of the problem by obtaining
substantial data from participants (Esterberg,
2002). In focus group interviews,
participants are often stimulated by the
comments of others and speak more in depth
about issues of concern to them, but are still
able to relay their individual user
Focus Group Questions
Questions addressed the design of
firefighter gear and required work actions of
the user. Participants were also asked to
identify what they like and dislike about
their current and past gear. Table 1 presents
the initial interview questions. An interview
protocol was followed to minimize
interviewer bias (Kvale, 1996). Additional
questions were asked when responses from
the initial questions needed clarification or
Article Designation: Refereed JTATM
Volume 8, Issue 2, Summer 2013
Table 1: Focus Group Questions
1. What do you like best about your gear?
2. What do you dislike most about your gear?
3. Can you tell me a real situation in which your gear kept you from moving in a way you
needed to move? What were you doing at the time?
4. What would you change about your gear if you could?
5. What kind of adjustments do you make to your gear to improve your wearing experience?
6. What activities or movements are you doing when you make the adjustments?
7. Are there any features of your previous gear that you miss?
8. What elements of the ensemble as a whole are in need of the most improvement?
9. What would you like to see in your next set of bunker gear?
Focus groups were conducted at
eight fire stations. Each focus group took
between 60 and 90 minutes to complete. The
focus group sizes ranged from two to 11
firefighters, with an average size of nine. All
participants were either full- or part-time
firefighters, career or volunteer. Each focus
group session was audio recorded with
participants’ written consent and transcribed
for accuracy in data analysis. For some
focus groups, it was not possible to hold the
focus group interview without male
firefighters present. In these instances, any
comments made by male firefighters during
the focus group interview were removed
from the transcript before analysis.
Fire stations were chosen in two
ways; first was proximity to the research
sites and whether the researchers could
obtain approval to conduct the study at that
site. Additional fire stations were added to
capture larger focus groups and additional
urban stations.
Study Participants
The Human Subject Research board
at each university granted approval. All
participants were volunteers and gave both
written and verbal consent. Focus group
meetings were conducted in four states. We
purposively identified both career and
volunteer fire departments in urban and rural
settings to ensure a broad representation of
the female firefighter population. Fire
stations were selected based on the number
of female firefighters employed at the
station. Table 2 shows the distribution of
urban and rural, and the type of station
(career firefighters or volunteer) of each
focus group site, along with the number of
women in each group.
Table 2: Focus group sites and participant information
City Pop.
Total # of
Total # of
# of Female
Article Designation: Refereed JTATM
Volume 8, Issue 2, Summer 2013
Data Analysis and Interpretation
The female firefighters’ responses
from focus group transcriptions were
analyzed by two researchers both
individually and cooperatively using an
iterative part-to-whole interpretive analysis
method (Spiggle, 1994). To ensure accurate
representation and interpretation of the data,
each transcript was read a minimum of three
times throughout the process. First,
researchers worked independently to
identify prominent themes and ideas from
the transcripts. Participants’ comments
centered around five primary gear factors,
including design features, sizing, fit,
mobility, and fabrication.
The researchers then worked
together to evaluate the comments grouped
within these themes and, through a back and
forth process, examined transcripts and the
previously collected lists of recurring
themes to identify abstract constructs that
emerged from the initial categories. These
constructs represented common issues and
recurring themes across all the study
responses. Two major constructs evolved
from the interpretive process, each of which
encompasses a critical requirement of
firefighter turnout gear: function and
comfort. Data were organized by grouping
participants’ comments related to each of the
five primary factors of the gear and the two
critical requirements, allowing researchers
to identify the most frequently repeated
comments for each area, and therefore the
issues of greater concern to participants.
Gear Function
The two main constructs that emerged
from the data were function and comfort.
Function, as we defined it, related to the
ability of firefighters to perform their job
functions while wearing their gear. This
conceptual area received the highest number
of comments from participants and was the
only area to receive comments related to
each of the five gear factors (i.e., garment
design features, sizing, fit, mobility, and
fabrication). See Figure 1.
Figure 1. Number of Comments by Category
Garment Design Sizing Fit Fabrication Mobility
Article Designation: Refereed JTATM
Volume 8, Issue 2, Summer 2013
Garment Design
Of the five gear factors,
participants’ comments overwhelmingly
focused on garment design features (Figure
1). The majority of remarks centered on
design issues that females perceived were
more problematic for themselves than for
their male counterparts.
Turnout gear normally has a variety
of pockets placed on the outside of both the
coat and pants to hold items such as
hammers and flashlights that were needed
when firefighters enter a fire. Firefighters
also store their gloves in pockets to be
available when donning their gear, and
return them to their pockets for storage
when removing their gear.
Participants noted that pocket
placement was often inconvenient for the
female figure. Large, bellows style pockets
are often located on the side of the upper leg
or hip. Participants indicated that this was a
poor location. One female recounted that her
hip pockets affected her ability to move
through tight spaces or climb.
I think the pockets are in strange
places, too. Maybe it’s just a
woman’s hip consciousness, but
having all this stuff like right here
seems like a bad idea to me and on my
legs, too. I always just feel so totally
unwieldy ….. You know, those heavy
pockets and you’re trying to get up
into a truck. It’s like, ugh! Heave ho.
And somebody push me, please (Site
Participants also stated that the chest
placement of radio pockets on some gear is
inconvenient for females.
…you have so much by the time you
put on your pack, by the time you have
a flashlight hanging there, a pass
device and stuff. So it’s kind of not in
the greatest place and maybe not for a
girl (Site #6).
The second most common issue for
female firefighters related to suspender
design. The suspenders should hold the
pants on the body in an optimal position and
are available in two configurations A-style
or H-style. The A-style has a strap over
each shoulder, fastened on the left and right
front of the pants but joined in the back to
create a single fastener at center back. The
H-style suspenders are separate in the back
(fastening on the left and right on both front
and back of the pants) with a horizontal
strap to hold the straps on the shoulders.
Firefighters can purchase different sizes of
suspenders in leather or webbing materials
and most suspenders are able to be adjusted
for length.
Female participants generally agreed
that the placement of suspenders was not
appropriate for females. One participant
stated: They run right up over your boobs
(Site #6). Another participant agreed, It
rubs, so I’ve had to wear like my little sports
bra underneath (Site #7). The suspender
placement also conflicted with the air pack
straps, further complicating the issue for
When you’re using a sternum strap on
your air pack, you have extra sort of
bunching going on in your top half
that must be different for them [males]
because they’re configured differently.
suspenders and all this end straps
and boobs… the whole thing
squishing together (Site #4).
Participants expressed great concern
about the sizing and fit issues related to their
gear. For this study, comments that dealt
with gear that was overall too large or too
small were considered a sizing issue, while
comments focused on more specific
proportions of the gear (e.g. pant waist is too
large, coat sleeves are too short) were
grouped as fit issues. Equal numbers of
comments related to the effects of sizing and
fit on firefighters’ function.
Article Designation: Refereed JTATM
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The majority of participant comments
revolved around the lack of female-specific
gear for female firefighters. Few of the
participants indicated they had gear
designed and sized for women. One
participant stated, Pants are too long and
coats are too big in general. I feel like I am
wearing my dad’s, you’re a little kid….
you’re trying to fit into your dad’s coat and
trying to make the best of it. It’s just bunches
of material everywhere (Site #3). Another
female firefighter said, So we just stick with
the guy’s clothing, even the pants. They
think everybody has a waist this big around
and hips this wide. They’re terrible” (Site
#7). One participant made the simple
statement, Wearing males’ gear is a
problem (Site #5).
They also reported their suspenders
were too long, even when they adjusted
them to the shortest length, and that they did
not have gloves and boots that were
adequately sized for their smaller hands and
feet. One volunteer firefighter was only
allowed a choice of male gear owned by the
department. Consequently, her boots were
much too large for her feet. It’s like the
second coming. Yeah, the boots will be left
behind. Like if you’re climbing away, you’ll
lose a boot. I’ve had that happen plenty of
times (Site #6). Another volunteer firefighter
indicated that she struggled to find gloves to
purchase in smaller sizes.
Gloves have to be redone because
they just always feel so huge and it’s,
I mean, for me, one of the difficult
things is actually finding the right
size. …Almost everything is large,
extra-large. And so, you know, it was
like lobster claws (Site #6).
Female firefighters reported that
their gear was generally too long to fit their
bodies, even if the circumference
measurements were correct. Participants
from two focus groups (Sites #5 and #7)
indicated that the coat and coat sleeves were
too long. Similarly, three focus group
participants related that the pant legs were
too long (Sites #3, #4, #5), and they cinched
their suspenders up higher to try to deal with
the excess length.
Female firefighters also stated that
the crotch on their pants was too low, either
due to the pants not fitting properly or
because the suspenders would stretch out
over time, allowing the pants to drop lower
on their bodies. The low crotch posed one of
the bigger issues for females, greatly
affecting their ability to perform specific
tasks that involved squatting or stepping up.
One firefighter described the issue, Literally,
the crotch is like clear down almost to my
knees, so when you go to step up or do
anything. And part of the problem is they
fall, they fall down (Site #7). Another told
how she couldn’t fully participate in a
training drill because of the low crotch.
Pants are real long and they are down. You
know? And he said, you all drop to one
knee and I couldn’t even. I couldn’t even
get my legs far enough from each other to
go on a knee because the crotch was so low
(Site #4).
Mobility of Wearer
Firefighters must be able to move
quickly into a wide variety of body
positions. In the course of their job they
may climb a ladder or stairs, check for
people under objects and reach overhead to
take down objects. Above all, they also
must be able to leave the building quickly if
conditions are too dangerous. Wearing gear
that does not allow for mobility endangers
the firefighter.
Firefighters related that their
mobility is reduced by the weight and bulk
of the gear. One urban firefighter said, I
think it’s too bulky. Need to kind of do
something with that. The weight and the
bulkiness of it. You know, you walk around,
you can’t, you can barely move (Site #2).
Another participant recounted conversations
with other firefighters about increased
weight of new gear. See the gear seems a lot
thicker. I know it’s not my imagination. That
other people say it. And at first I didn’t know
if it was stiffer, stiffer material or thicker.
Article Designation: Refereed JTATM
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But other people will say, ‘Oh, yeah, I like
my old gear. It wasn’t so heavy (Site #7).
While participants noted that excess weight
and bulk would affect male firefighters’
ability to move as well, they felt they were
at more of a disadvantage than their male
co-workers because they were not wearing
gear that was properly designed and sized
for their female bodies, causing greater
Participants related issues caused by
the materials of their gear, such as difficulty
laundering the gear. Bunker gear requires
specific laundering methods to ensure it is
properly cleaned without diminishing the
fire and thermal protection the gear
provides. Firefighters commented that the
gear is not only difficult to launder, but also
difficult to dry after laundering, or when
soaked with perspiration or water after use.
One participant described how the slow
drying time of her gear affected her.
It doesn’t dry quickly. …. we were out
training and I got my pants wet. Well,
because we keep our pants down
around our boots, they’re always
scrunched up. They don’t dry out. Or
when you come back three days later,
your gear is still wet and it stinks like
kitty litter. So my biggest complaint is
it takes too long. And like in the
wintertime, when your gear gets wet,
you’re not dry and you have to go
back out in wet gear and you become
a popsicle. You can’t move because
everything is frozen (Site #7).
Wearer Comfort
The second conceptual area that
emerged from the data was comfort, which
received approximately 20% of the
comments in our focus groups (Figure 1).
Comfort, as it is defined here, relates to the
absence of discomfort while wearing their
gear. The female firefighters said that
fabrication and sizing of the gear have the
biggest impact on comfort.
Gear Fabrication
The material properties of turnout
gear are problematic for female firefighters.
The highest concern to study participants
was the overall weight of the gear. Many
shared the same sentiment expressed by one
urban firefighter: It would be nice someday
if they could come up with something that
would be a little lighter, yet still be effective
in protecting you (Site #7). In addition to the
coat and pants, firefighters wear fire and
heat resistant boots, Nomex® hoods, face
shields, a Self-Contained Breathing
Apparatus (SCBA), helmet and gloves. The
total weight of this equipment is between 50
and 70 pounds; when wet, this weight
increases. One female in our study described
the difficulty of the additional weight from
wet gear for females wearing male gear.
The suspenders are only there to keep
your pants from falling like off; ….
So, when they get wet and they get
that added weight. So then what
happens, you get shoulder aches. So
the things dig into your shoulder. (Site
Female firefighters in this study
noted that because their gear is so absorbent
and has multiple layers of fabrics, they
struggle to get it to dry between wearings.
Their gear will develop a foul smell after it
has stayed wet for a few days that
participants noted bothered female
firefighters more than male firefighters.
Some participants reported that they
laundered their gear at home to try to dry it
out or get rid of the smell. One participant
said, You’re not supposed to hang it in the
sun or dry it. But mine smelled real bad a
couple weeks ago. I was like I can’t take
this. This is stinky (Site #4).
Participants discussed how wearing
gear sized for males affected their comfort.
The majority of comments were about the
gear being too big overall, causing
additional bulk beyond what they would
experience with properly sized gear. They
noted this additional bulk made them
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uncomfortable, particularly where it
bunched at joints or under the SCBA straps
on the shoulders and upper chest area.
This study identified critical issues
female firefighters have with their gear that
affects their ability to perform their job
functions or hinders their comfort. Aspects
affecting female firefighter function
included garment design features, sizing, fit,
mobility, and fabrication. Sizing and
fabrication issues impacted the overall
comfort of female firefighters.
The two greatest concerns related to
garment design for female firefighters were
pocket placement and suspender function.
Study participants found pocket location to
be cumbersome and awkward. Bunker gear
manufacturers generally let firefighters
specify pocket placement on the right or left
side of their body (for the thigh pockets,
chest pocket or arm pockets) and the
firefighters may have some choice in the
placement of pockets when ordering new
equipment. There is often choice of pocket
design (i.e. or whether the pocket has inside
divisions). However, from the comments
received, many firefighters are not given
these choices. It may be more critical that
fire departments allow females to customize
pocket placement than males, since common
pocket locations caused specific frustration
for the female firefighters in this study.
Many of the participants agreed that
the suspenders stretched out quickly and
this, combined with the weight of the pants,
caused the pants to hang too low on the
body. Another issue was that the weight of
the pants was transferred to the suspenders
instead of being partially supported at the
waist. Female firefighters struggled to
perform their duties with this additional
weight hanging on their shoulders, along
with the weight of the heavy SCBA unit.
Furthermore, participants felt the
configuration of suspenders was not
appropriate for the female figure. The
suspender design should be modified for
females to avoid having the straps cross
directly over the bust.
There is much ongoing research of
protective clothing for firefighters, yet no
studies address sizing and fit of the
garments, areas of critical concern for
participants in this study. Few participants in
our study wore gear sized specifically for
women, and those that were able to wear
female gear reported that the sizing
availability and fit were still problematic.
Female firefighters can purchase bunker
gear designed for women, however in the
Hulett et. al. (2008) study 39.8% of female
firefighters reported wearing male bunker
gear. The main reason given for not
purchasing this type of gear was “the simple
lack of departments’ responsiveness” (p. 8).
This means that many departments will not
invest in female specific bunker gear for
their female firefighters. Participants in our
study faced this challenge. Some
participants were unaware that female gear
was available for purchase, while others
were told the fire department did not have
the resources to purchase personally-sized
gear. Female firefighters are often given a
choice of gear currently owned by their
department, generally not including any
female specific gear. Fire departments must
be made aware of the greater challenges and
impacts of firefighters wearing improperly
sized and ill-fitting gear and strongly
encouraged to ensure all firefighters are
provided good fitting gear.
The most recent edition of the
National Fire Protection Association’s
structural firefighting standards includes
required size increments for bunker gear
labeled as NFPA compliant (NFPA, [2007],
Table 6.1.11, p. 24). It is not required that all
sizes be offered by manufacturers to be
compliant, just that the size increments be
within or at the 2” tolerance level set forth
by the NFPA committee. Therefore,
manufacturers who offer a limited range of
sizes, still meet the requirements of the
NFPA standard. Standards do not include
information on proportions between
measurements. This standard could be more
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fully developed to address issues related to
gear sized for females.
It is also important that
manufacturers that do offer female specific
gear reevaluate their fit to make
improvements to the fit of the gear by
correcting the proportions of length to
width. Females in our study reported that
even when they could find gear correctly
proportioned for their smaller waists and
larger hips, the length of sleeves and pant
legs was still too long. Pants designed for
women are available; however, the only
control measurement is the hip. Therefore
the pants may be made in a larger hip to
waist ratio for the women but with no other
body proportions taken in to consideration,
for example crotch length, fit remains a
significant problem for study participants.
Issues of fit and sizing reported in
this study extended beyond the protective
coat and pants for most participants, to
include other gear. Hulett et al. (2008)
reported that 79.7% of women firefighter in
their study reported problems with their
equipment. Within that total, gloves were
the most problematic with 57.8% of the
complaints, boots received 46.8%, then
bunker coats (38.9%), helmets (28.4%) and
breathing masks (25.6%). These findings
are confirmed through our focus groups;
participants in our study also noted that
gloves and boots were most problematic for
them, specifically that these items were too
large and cumbersome.
Improvements in firefighter
protective clothing can decrease the number
of firefighters who die in the line of duty,
but heat stress remains a major problem
(Pye, 2006). According to the U.S. Fire
Administration (2008), heart attacks caused
by heat stress are the leading cause of death
among firefighters. Wearing oversized
clothing adds to the weight and bulk of the
garment requiring additional physical
exertion, leading to additional heat stress
(Huck & McCullough, 1988). This also
impacts wearer mobility; females in our
study described effects of excess bulk in the
gear which will increase metabolic heat
production when firefighting. It is critical
for the health and safety of firefighters that
they wear properly sized clothing.
The women in this study noted that
one of the greatest hindrances to their
mobility was caused by the low pant crotch.
This impacted their ability to crawl through
windows and buildings, get down on their
knees, and climb ladders. Structural
firefighters enter a building on their hand
and knees or in a “duck walk” stance in
order to be under the smoke and see the
layout of the building. It is critical that they
are able to crawl, kneel, and climb without
restriction caused by poorly fitting gear.
Study participants described
frustration with keeping their gear clean and
dry. Some participants reported laundering
their gear at home. Laundering gear in the
home can expose firefighters and their
family to toxins and cause deterioration of
protective materials used in the gear.
Women also struggled to dry their gear
between wearings. Because the participants
are wearing gear that is already too big for
them, they had more issues when the gear
was wet and heavy. Improving the drying
time of the coat and pants would greatly
improve the female firefighters’ comfort and
Critical issues for female firefighters
identified in this study are primarily caused
by women wearing incorrectly sized gear.
Female firefighters can purchase female
specific bunker gear, however most females
in our study reported they were still wearing
male gear. Respondents discussed sizing
issues with gloves and boots, and fit issues,
such as the pants being too large in the waist
or too long in the crotch. Participants also
reported female specific problems with the
design of the gear that negatively impact
their comfort, such as suspender placement
over the bust and pockets being awkwardly
placed on the hips and bust area. The gear is
also heavy, weighing as much as 70 pounds
or more when wet, diminishing the ability of
smaller framed women to move quickly, a
necessity for firefighting.
Article Designation: Refereed JTATM
Volume 8, Issue 2, Summer 2013
Female firefighter gear should be
sized specifically for female wearers.
Furthermore, female firefighters could
benefit from fit adjustments to the bunker
pants to shorten the crotch and/or
improvements in suspender function.
To complete the Rosenblad-Wallin
(1985) method of functional product design,
observations of female firefighters in action
are recommended along with collection of
ergonomic and anthropometric data on this
population. It is recommended that sizing
systems be developed specifically for female
firefighters, based on anthropometric data
obtained from the female firefighter
population. Development of lighter, more
breathable fabrics for bunker gear is also
recommended to reduce bulk and improve
drying time. It is recommended that
prototypes be developed and tested for
improved garment design features, such as
pocket and suspender placement.
1. Chetkovich, C.A. (1997). Real Heat:
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on January 14, 2013 from
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Performance of Protective Clothing:
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for Testing and Materials.
4. Esterberg, K. G. (2002). Qualitative
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Hill, Boston.
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City Fire Department Doubles Minority
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7. Huck, J. & McCullough, E. A. (1988).
Firefighter turnout clothing:
Physiological and subjective evaluation.
Performance of Protective Clothing:
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Z. Mandorf, R. Sager, and A. P. Nielsen,
Eds., American Society for Testing and
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8. Hulett, D.M., Bendick, Jr., M., Thomas,
S.Y. & Moccio, F. (2008). A National
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9. Krueger, R.A. (1988). Focus groups: A
practical guide for applied research.
Sage Publications, Newbury Park, CA.
10. Kvale, S. (1996). Inter-views. Sage,
Thousand Oaks, CA.
11. LaBar, G. (1997). Firing up: Protective
clothing selection. Occupational
Hazards, 59(5), pp. 73-74.
12. National Fire Protection Association.
(2007). Standard 1971: Protective
Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting
and Proximity Fire Fighting. NFPA,
Boston, MA.
13. Pye, S. (2006). Firefighers at risk for
heat stress. Retrieved on March 17,
2008 from
14. Rosenblad-Wallin, E. (1985). User-
oriented product development applied to
functional clothing design. Applied
Ergonomics, 16(4), pp.279-287.
15. Schuster, M.P. (2000). The physical and
psychological stresses of women in
firefighting. Work, 15, pp. 77-82.
16. Spiggle, S. (1994). Analysis and
interpretation of qualitative data in
consumer research. Journal of
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Article Designation: Refereed JTATM
Volume 8, Issue 2, Summer 2013
17. Textile Clothing Technology
Corporation. (2003). SizeUSA,
Unpublished raw data.
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man and woman. John Wiley & Sons,
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... However, firefighters, particularly female firefighters, frequently reported dissatisfaction with their turnout gears [12,15,16]. For example, previous studies show that the heavyweight and bulkiness of PPEs increase the risks of injuries of the firefighters and limit firefighters' performance because it results in barriers to mobility and comfort [13,17,18]. ...
... For instance, black firefighters have more elongated hands than other race/ethnicity groups have [50]. Moreover, older firefighters have larger hands than younger firefighters [18]. ...
... Neither male firefighters nor female firefighters are satisfied with their PPE, however, female firefighters are even less satisfied than their male counterparts [12,15,16,18,25]. Female firefighters tend to alter their turnout gear, but typically have difficulty receiving help when dealing with poorly-fitted gear [25]. ...
Full-text available
Firefighting is a hazardous occupation. It has a variety of risks associated with fatal and non-fatal injuries. To protect against heat and unsafe environment, firefighters wear personal protective equipment (PPE), including self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), boots, helmet, and thermal protective clothing, including coat, pants, hood, and gloves. To obtain knowledge of injuries and issues related to the functional design of firefighting PPE, especially firefighting PPE for female firefighters, a systematic review of related literature in related disciplines was conducted. It was found heavy and bulky turnout ensemble and inappropriate sizing system are the two dominant barriers to effective and efficient firefighting performance. Also, research on female firefighters’ PPE is limited but highly demanded. Therefore, this review provides insights for improving the design, fit, and functionality of future PPE. In particular, it summarizes the design and sizing issues of existing PPE products, thus providing a valuable guide to the industry in improving future functional design and production of PPE. It also identifies critical knowledge gaps of firefighting PPE and specified future research opportunities, such as improving the design of firefighter PPE based on gender, height, age, and the category of firefighters.
... All rights reserved. turnout coats and pants than their male counterparts [5][6][7][8][9]. Nearly 40% of firewomen surveyed have problems with ill-fitting turnout coats and pants [5]. ...
... Nearly 40% of firewomen surveyed have problems with ill-fitting turnout coats and pants [5]. Appropriate fit is essential to the safety, protection, mobility, and comfort of turnout ensembles [6,7,10]. Turnout gear that is too tight can restrict movement, while gear that is too loose inhibits firefighter's mobility and make them more likely to sustain injuries [3,[6][7][8]. ...
... Appropriate fit is essential to the safety, protection, mobility, and comfort of turnout ensembles [6,7,10]. Turnout gear that is too tight can restrict movement, while gear that is too loose inhibits firefighter's mobility and make them more likely to sustain injuries [3,[6][7][8]. There has been minimal in-depth research into the specific fit problems and consequences of these problems on the workplace health of firewomen [9,11]. ...
Background: Inadequately fitting turnout coats and pants hamper mobility and safety of firewomen. Previous research has established that firewomen are dissatisfied with their turnout coats and pants. Yet, there has been minimal in-depth research into the specific fit problems and consequences of these problems on the workplace health of firewomen. Objective: The researchers sought to uncover common fit problems firewomen have with turnout coats and pants, and their impact on mobility and safety while performing work. Methods: The researchers performed a qualitative analysis of in-depth interviews of 35 firewomenRESULTS:The study illuminated specific fit problems firewomen have with their turnout coats and pants. These fit challenges include challenges with the overall proportions of the turnout coats and pants as well as issues of length and how the turnout coats and pants fit around their body (circumference), leading to concerns about mobility and safety. Conclusions: This study builds an understanding of specific fit problems on the ability of firewomen to do their challenging work in a safe and stress-free manner. Firewomen's protective apparel should protect and empower all firewomen. To adequately protect firewomen, manufactures should prioritize the implementation of these findings to improve the safety and mobility that firewomen's turnout coats and pants offer them.
... When appropriate firefighters' comments from the ''other'' text input questions were coded by three independent researchers using an interpretive thematic analysis method [24]. This method groups responses into overarching themes and has been used in similar studies [25][26][27]. The overall goal of the questionnaire was to determine how wildland firefighters in the U.S. today are cleaning their wildland PPC, specifically their response jacket and shirt. ...
The cleaning practices of U.S. wildland firefighter personal protective clothing (PPC) are widely unregulated and unknown. Failure to regularly and effec- tively clean soiled and contaminated PPC may lead to severe health impacts, espe- cially in the long term, as documented in the structural fire service. This study aimed to investigate the current cleaning practices of wildland firefighting gear and to deter- mine the laundering resources wildland firefighters have access to while deployed in the field. This study is the first of its kind to collect such end-user feedback on wild- land firefighter PPC cleaning. Findings indicate the majority of wildland firefighters do not isolate their contaminated gear, wash their PPC at home, and frequently transport their gear in personal vehicles, all of which are significant departures from the recommendations of the National Fire Protection Association 1877 Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Wildland Firefighting Protective Clothing and Equipment. Considerations of practicality and feasibility specific to the wildland fire service should be adopted in the standard.
Fit of fire boots is a crucial factor in the safety and performance of firefighters on the hostile fireground. Firefighters have reported that ill-fitting fire boots restrict their lower body movement and sometimes cause very dangerous situations by falling off behind the wearer. By using computed tomography (CT), this study demonstrated the potential to quantify and visualize the fit of fire boots, which previously relied on subjective feedback from the wearers. The high-resolution 3D models of two fire boot products allowed a detailed observation and measurement of the internal space of the boots. Also, the boot's internal dimension was compared to the foot measurement of local firefighters, showing the significant differences between the two boots. Lastly, simulation wrapping the 3D scanned foot with the boot revealed large void spaces around the toe box and ankle, as well as the narrower ball width of the boot than the foot.
Full-text available
This proceedings book contains the extended abstracts from the 10th European Conference on Protective Clothing, May 9-12, 2023, Arnhem, The Netherlands. The aim of the European Conference on Protective Clothing series is to promote research and cooperation in the area of personal protection. Functional and comfortable protective clothing is a key element for successful implementation of preventive and protective measures at the workplaces. The 10th ECPC covers a broad spectrum of the subject protective clothing, and has turned into an internationally qualified source of new, valuable, and useful information for the advancement of knowledge and the application of protective clothing. The conference has become a platform to disseminate, exchange and discuss the results of research, project developments and implementation programmes related to protective clothing, with a strong focus on user protection and well-being. Ergonomics is still a strong component of the conference within the new challenges related to climate change, pandemics, and development of digital technology with new smart functions being an integrated part of textiles and modern PPE. Issues related to sustainability, durability of the products and consideration of the full life cycle of PPE is high up on the agenda today. The changing business needs support from legislation and work with standardization must keep up the pace so that the innovative and safe products can reach the market. This conference acts as a forum for industries, public authorities and academic organizations – researchers, designers, manufacturers, purchasers, health and safety experts, human factors experts and procurement specialists and end-users to exchange and discuss research and project development for personal protective clothing (PPC) and equipment (PPE).
Full-text available
Despite the growing female firefighter population, firefighting gear was originally designed with only the male human form in mind. As a result, women in the fire service experience issues of improper fit and injuries at rates exponentially higher than their male counterparts. Areas of ill-fit, specifically in interfaces, can increase the risk of occupational exposure for women in the fire service. The purpose of this research was to determine fit and sizing issues of personal protective clothing (PPC) to improve female firefighters' comfort, mobility, and safety. A mixed methods approach was adopted including a nationwide questionnaire, end-user focus groups, and remote three-dimensional body scanning of 189 female structural and wildland firefighters. Between 15%-21% of female firefighters were found to intentionally leave off a part of their PPC at least "sometimes," if not "nearly always," with the coat and pants being the primary items not donned. 100% of participants had wrist and ankle circumferences smaller than the smallest size garment's wrist and pant leg openings per the wildland sizing system, indicating interface areas and wildland PPC have the greatest opportunities for design and fit improvement. This study gathered and created the first and largest U.S. female firefighter anthropometric database. Overall results indicate female firefighters are wearing PPC with significant fit issues that not only reduce their comfort and restrict their mobility but pose increased safety risks related to occupational exposure.
Full-text available
Between 2010 and 2014, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) estimated that female firefighters experienced 1260 injuries on the fireground each year. Previous research attributed some of these injuries to ill-fitting fire personal protective equipment (PPE). Therefore, in this mixed-method paper, the authors explored the relationship between fire PPE and injuries, and how they related to sizing and fit. To achieve this aim, data were collected from manufacturer-provided web communications regarding sizing and fit, user surveys (n = 74), and 1:1 interviews (n = 31) with U.S. female firefighters. The data considered how the size and fit standards established by the NFPA and how leading fire PPE manufacturers’ interpretation of standards impacted fit for female firefighters. Interview and survey data pinpointed experiences with the PPE sizing processes that led to poor fit. The data also identified previously undocumented knowledge gaps between NFPA size standards, commercialized products, and processes used by manufacturers and firehouses to fit female practitioners. The study discovered several opportunities to improve the size and fitting process women experienced when acquiring new turnout gear. With effective fire industry partnerships and future research, women can experience fewer injuries, improved comfort, and work performance with their PPE while establishing equality with their male counterparts.
Firefighters have reported their protective boots to be bulky and ill-fitting, which they believe restrict the lower body movement on the unpredictable fireground. This study used 3D foot scanning to compare the shape of firefighters' feet to the general population, the shape of female firefighters’ feet to males, and the impact of the heavy fire gear on foot shape. The results found the foot breadth of firefighters was larger than the general population and the feet of female firefighters were slimmer than males. Furthermore, it revealed that the feet of firefighters became longer, wider, and flatter when bearing the weight of fire gear. Protective boots should be designed based on the foot shape and dimensions of the actual population, with consideration of sex differences and the impact of weight-bearing for their safety.
Full-text available
Male and female firefighters work side-by-side in the same in strenuous and risky conditions. Anthropometrics, physiological, and reaction time (mean of reaction time -MRT-, and errors made -E) parameters of 12 Female and 13 Male firefighters were compared. Effect of overload (step test with and without equipment) on the MRT and E were analyzed on 3 trials (T1 = 1-1s, T2 = 0.5-1s, T3 = 0.5–0.5s), compared with a pre-test condition (basal). T-test between males and females was applied to assess differences (p<0.05) in all parameters. ANOVA with repeated measures and Bonferroni on 3 conditions of step test between males and females was applied in reaction time variables. Between MRT and E, in T1, T2 and T3 trials and the 3 test conditions, ANCOVA models with interactions were used. Differences (p<0.05) in anthropometric, physiological and reaction time data emerged across groups, and on the 3rd trials (T3 vs T1 and T2) in reaction time parameters of each group. ANCOVA showed differences (p<0.001) in E among trials. Post hoc showed significant differences in T1vsT3 and T1vsT2. MRT x trial interaction was extremely significant (P<0.001). Implementing fitness and reaction time exercise programs is important to decrease the injury risk and increase work capacity in firefighters with reference to female workers.
Firefighting is considered one of the most challenging professions. Personal protective equipment plays a crucial role in protecting firefighters against numerous occupational hazards. Despite the advances in materials technology, current firefighting personal protective clothing is considered heavy, bulk, stiff, and thick. Many studies evaluated firefighters’ perceptions of current equipment. Fit and sizing are frequently reported as issues in firefighting protective clothing. This paper provides a literature review with the objective of offering a better understanding of how fit and sizing of firefighting protective clothing have been addressed by researchers. A review of the main issues faced by firefighters as well as a synthesis of suggestions for improved design and better purchasing as reported in the literature are provided.
This study collected physical, physiological, and subjective data for different turnout clothing and equipment systems commonly used by fire fighters in the United States. A 3 by 2 by 2 randomized block design was used to determine the effect of (1) garment design; (2) type of moisture barrier; and (3) use or nonuse of a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) on certain factors. Results indicated that the best type of clothing system for structural fire fighting would be either the traditional long turnout coat or the tailed coat worn over waist length pants, constructed with a polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) moisture barrier, and worn without a SCBA.
In the struggle over affirmative action, no employment setting has seen more friction than urban fire departments. Thirty years of legal and political efforts have opened the doors of this historically white male preserve, but men of color have yet to consolidate their gains, and women's progress has been even more tenuous. In this unique and compelling account of affirmative action at the "street level, " Carol Chetkovich explores the ways in which this program has succeeded and failed. Chetkovich follows the men and women of the Oakland Fire Department Class 1-91 through their academy training and eighteen-month probation. Real Heat explores how the process of becoming a firefighter interacts with the dimensions of race and gender to support some and discourage others.
This article presents a framework for thinking about the fundamental activities of inference--data analysis and interpretation--by researchers using qualitative data. I contrast these two activities. For analysis I describe seven operations: categorization, abstraction, comparison, dimensionalization, integration, iteration, and refutation. For interpretation I suggest metaphor and other literary devices as models for understanding the meanings of others, identifying patterns in these meanings, and representing how systems of meanings reproduce culture. The purpose of these descriptions is to suggest a vocabulary for and stimulate discussion about how researchers using qualitative analytical techniques arrive at conclusions and make sense of data. Copyright 1994 by the University of Chicago.
This literature review investigates females in the male-dominated field of firefighting. Various psychological and physical stressors are identified which are unique to women in this occupation. Psychological stressors include: self-doubt, skepticism of their abilities by others, performance pressure, sexual harassment, and social ostracism. Physical stressors include: ineffective physical conditioning, improper training in the use of power tools, and ill-fitting personal protective equipment. Proactive solutions are suggested as methods to remediate these problems, such as: sensitivity and social skills training, education, stress management and assertiveness training, task specific physical conditioning, proper training in the use of power tools, and the availability of personal protective equipment in sizes to fit women. Occupational therapy practitioners are identified as professionals qualified to carry out much of this training.
A method for user-oriented product development is presented. After a theoretical introduction the method is applied to the development of functional clothing. The characteristic of the method is its starting-point with the user in the use-situation. Important product demands are derived from use-analyses. Three case-studies are described where this method has been applied. They concern working clothes, clothes for the elderly and military clothing. The quality of this methods as an instrument for product development in the clothing area is evaluated by comparing, on the one hand, this method with those usually used in the clothing industry, and on the other hand the new products with those formerly used. The method for user-oriented product development has proved to be complementary to conventional methods. It should be applied to products whose functional properties are of great importance. The method can be generalised to all users and to products with close connection to human beings.
Firing up: Protective clothing selection
  • G Labar
LaBar, G. (1997). Firing up: Protective clothing selection. Occupational Hazards, 59(5), pp. 73-74.
Firefighers at risk for heat stress
  • S Pye
Pye, S. (2006). Firefighers at risk for heat stress. Retrieved on March 17, 2008 from -Responders-at-Risk-for-Heat-Stress.html.