Fire Resistant Clothing Basics

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For thousands of years, people have been trying to find better ways to survive a fire. The first remnants of fireproofing by the Chinese with vinegar and alum encased in clay was found dating as far back as 0400BC.

Later in history, the Romans used the same methods to prevent a fire from spreading. It wasn't until the 16th century in Paris theaters that fireproofing the material of the curtains and seats was invented. By 1953 the Flammable Fabrics Act was activated and now all commercially sold clothes must be flame resistant.

What Is Fire Resistant (FR) Clothing?

Fire resistant clothing stops burning when the source of the flame or electric arc is removed. The material self-extinguishes and stops burning the skin by pushing oxygen away and starving the flame. The clothing should be washable and remain fire resistant.

After decades of research and testing, the standard chemical used to make clothing fire resistant is tetrakis (hydroxymethyl) phosphonium chloride (THPC) because it reacts to high heat, turning the material into non-flammable carbon without causing adverse reactions to the person wearing it.

How Is Fire Resistant Clothing Made?

The commercial material used to make everyday items like clothing, bedding, and furniture are flame resistant. The uniforms worn in high fire risk occupations are considered fire retardant. The difference between flame resistant and fire retardant is in the way the materials are processed.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring substance that is both flame resistant and fire retardant. Unfortunately, asbestos is unsuitable for clothing. Both fire resistant and flame retardant components start out the same, as a flammable substance that is changed in one of two ways.

  • Treated – The material starts as a naturally occurring fiber like cellulosics or cotton and is treated chemicals to make it fire resistant. Used for the general public.
  • Inherent – The material is usually synthetic petrochemicals that are engineered into a fiber by using chemistry. Used for high-risk professions.
Firefighters, electricians, chemical and fuel related industries require fire resistant clothing with a higher National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) rating. Each industry has specifications as to what fire retardant standards are required for the work surroundings.

Guidelines for Purchasing FR Clothing

All the information about the protective clothing can be found on the label or you can contact the manufacturer or clothing supplier. Each garment is given a rating from different agencies and should be breathable, flexible, and move sweat away from the body with moisture wicking fabrics.
  • Arc Thermal Performance Value (APTV) – rating given to all garments for their ability to perform in an electrical arc or discharge. The higher the number the better the protection.
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – ratings based on specific job tasks. Rating are from a category 1 to a category 4. The higher the risk of fire and burns, the higher the rating.
  • Hazard Risk Category (HRC) – each job task has a number based on hazard level. This is an easy reference guide for each hazard level.
  • Energy Breakeven Threshold (EBT) – rating is determined when a break open on the material happens before the start of a second-degree burn.

Companies that produce fire resistant clothing must meet stringent standards and practices set by law. You can rest easy knowing that the fire resistant clothing you wear meets federal regulations set forth by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Wearing fire resistant clothing can save you from a serious burn injury and even death. Learning the dangers faced while performing your job will help you when choosing which fire resistant clothing will best fit your needs.
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