Firefighters wear protective gloves called "structure gloves" to keep their hands safe on the job. The protective equipment firefighters wear -- including structure gloves -- give them the confidence to focus on putting out fires and saving lives; however, the structure gloves currently used by firefighters are not designed for the precision movements our first responders must perform.
"Firefighters have been using bulky leather structure gloves for many years," said Greg Price, director of Responder Technologies, a division within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate (S&T). "The new tools firefighters use in the field enhance their mission, but the gloves haven't updated with the technology."
While there are many different types of structure gloves available, none fully satisfy modern firefighters' needs. Today's compact tools often have small buttons that require nimble movements. Bulky gloves can make it difficult for firefighters to complete simple tasks without removing their gloves and compromising their safety.
Firefighters need gloves in the field that fit properly, enable dexterity, and aren't bulky, while still meeting the heat and water resistance criteria. If structure gloves become soggy and uncomfortable, a firefighter may need to remove them in order to complete tasks. This exposes their hands to the dangerous conditions of a fire or other emergency environment.
As advanced textile technology and materials continue to develop, the science behind firefighter structure gloves has adapted. Price and S&T's First Responder Technologies Division used these advancements to develop the Improved Structure Firefighting Glove -- a less bulky, updated glove merging the needs of firefighters with available technology and improved materials. Price is the Program Director for S&T's Rapid Technology Development group and currently oversees the development and testing of the new glove.
"The Improved Structure Firefighting Glove uses new materials that greatly enhance its performance," said Price.
Developed in partnership with NanoSonic™ and Shelby Specialty Gloves, the Improved Structure Firefighting Glove is a combination of traditional materials and NanoSonic's HybridShield® insulated materials that are water-repellent as well as heat- and puncture-resistant. S&T asked Shelby Specialty Gloves, a structure glove manufacturer, to take the glove one step further. The resulting product is the first of its kind -- a lightweight, improved form and better-fitting structure glove.
The project underwent multiple stages of research and testing to ensure the selected materials were durable enough to handle field conditions. Several prototypes of the glove were produced to ensure the best possible finished product. In 2012, S&T shipped glove prototypes to multiple fire departments for testing. Each iteration featured improvements made based on comments from firefighters. The current version of the glove was assessed in 2013, and evaluated against five categories: ease of donning and doffing, proper fit, puncture resistance, dexterity, and thermal protection and heat dissipation.
The improved structure glove received glowing reviews. The enhanced fit allows firefighters to perform even the most delicate of tasks, such as inserting a key into a lock. Firefighters noted heat resistance, don and doff ability, and overall comfort and flexibility as key improvements in the improved structure glove.
"If we stay on our current schedule," Price said, "we hope to have the gloves NFPA-certified and available for commercial purchase by third quarter 2014."
The final round of testing is currently underway, and the glove is expected to meet current National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards.
The above story is based on materials provided by Homeland Security's Science & Technology Directorate. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
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