Generally speaking, fire clothing is seen as something used only by firefighters. Although people in this profession make the most use out of this type of apparel, they are not the only ones that utilize it. Pharmaceutical and chemical workers also rely on the protection firefighting clothes offer as well as people who work in food processing plants, the paper and pulp industry, certain utility workers and electricians too. Not all of them need the same amount of protection tough which is why there are different types of fire apparel.
Fire-resistant clothes, which are also known as flame-resistant, are made from non-flammable fabrics. This means that the chemical structure of the materials doesn’t catch on fire that easily. These clothes can still catch fire, but they will self-extinguish or burn slowly depending on how strong the fire is. Fire-retardant clothes, on the other hand, aren’t made of non-flammable fabrics, instead they have undergone a chemical treatment in order to get the same flame-resistant properties as non-flammable fabrics.
What Are Firefighter Clothes Made of?
These type of fibres are the most commonly used option nowadays. Modacrylic fibres are regularly used in combo with different flame-resistant fabrics to create a blend. This blend makes for fire clothes that can easily comply with several different regulations and standards.
This is another type of flame resistant fibres used in all kinds of applications other than FR clothes but they also provide something that modacrylic fibres don’t. Kevlar is known to be extremely strong which can make for rigid and durable flame-resistant clothing. Kevlar fibres are often combined with Nomex fibres.
Nomex fibres, like the aforementioned ones are obviously fire-resistant but unlike modacrylic fibres they can be used on their own too. There is FR apparel that is made entirely of Nomex. This standalone fabric allows manufacturers to make more affordable fire-resistant clothes.
Primary vs Secondary Protection
Fire clothes can provide primary and secondary protection. When a certain garment or set of garments offer primary protection it usually means that they are flame-resistant. This also means that you can wear them in a setting where you will constantly be exposed to open flames, molten substance splashes and radiating heat. This type of protection is most commonly used by firefighters, but if you work in an environment with similar conditions there is no harm in having primary protection FR garments.
Secondary protection clothes can offer protection from radiant heat, flames and molten substance splashes but not when these factors are constant. This means that fire apparel with secondary protection is meant for users who won’t be exposed to the aforementioned factors as much.
How Fire Clothes Should Fit
Firefighting clothes can offer more protection when they are not tight. A looser fit has a layer of air between the garment and you which provides added insulation form heat and flames. If the fire-resistant/retardant clothes you’re going to be wearing are skintight, the flames will come into closer contact, almost against your skin. It’s not that the clothing won’t do its job but it’s safer to have that cushion of air between the fabric and your skin.
This doesn’t mean that you should get the baggiest clothes either. This may sound like a great idea at first but it can actually be quite dangerous. Baggy clothes can easily tear from hazards around you or snag onto objects which can either get you stuck or exposed to the environmental hazard around you. A balanced fit is what you should aim for. The clothes should be slightly loose whilst having a fairly snug fit. But like most clothes, FR clothing can shrink a little after the first couple of washings. Keep in mind that you’ll need to get slightly bigger clothes that can accommodate both for the shrinking and the air cushion.
What to Wear Under Fire Clothes
What you wear underneath the fire-resistant/retardant apparel is also important when it comes to the effectiveness of the FR garments. In this case you should avoid wearing garments that burn quickly and are prone to melting. These are usually garments made of synthetic fabrics such as spandex, acetate, nylon, polyester and under-armour. 100% Cotton garments, although by some safety regulations are allowed to be worn underneath FR clothes, are still not recommended. This is because cotton, much like synthetic fabrics, burns quickly but luckily it doesn’t melt. Silk, wool and linen can also quickly catch on fire and burn rapidly too but unlike synthetic fabrics they do not melt. These materials are treated with chemicals so they can handle better thermal exposure. This is why you need to wear garments made from natural fabrics treated with flame retardants under your FR clothes.