NIST logo
Bookmark and Share

High Temperature Performance of Fire Fighter Equipment Project


In 2011, the fire departments in the United States responded to more than 484,500  structure fires. These fires resulted in approximately 2,640 civilian fatalities, 15,635 injuries and property losses of approximately $9.7 billion1. In addition, more than 30,0002 fire fighters were injured on the fire ground3. This project will reduce the property and personnel losses due to fires by increasing the level of performance, efficiency, and safety of fire fighters by developing representative test methods. Current test methods and standards do not fully characterize the performance of fire fighter equipment in high temperature, rough duty environments. Representative test methods will characterize the performance of fire fighter equipment under the extreme environments in which they operate. The knowledge gained will be transferred to the fire service as well as to standards developing organizations to support the development of standards for the performance of fire fighter equipment under extreme environmental conditions. The three major areas of study include the performance of fire fighter electronic equipment in rough-duty fire fighting environments (fire fighter radios, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), & fire fighter locators), performance of fire fighter self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), and performance of fire fighter protective clothing. The results of this project will (1) mitigate total social costs of fires at both the community and the building scales, and (2) provide improved test methods and equipment standards for fire fighter radios, self-contained breathing apparatus, and fire fighter protective clothing.


[1] Karter, M.J., Jr., Fire Loss in the United States During 2011, National Fire Protection Association, Quincy, MA 02169-7471, August 2012,

[2] Karter, M.J., Jr, and Molis, J.L., Firefighter Injuries in the United States, National Fire Protection Association, Quincy, MA 02169-7471, October 2012,

[3] In 2011, fire fighter injuries totaled 70,090 of which 30,505 or 43.5% occurred on the fire ground.


Objective: To provide the technical basis for draft standards for the evaluation of fire fighter equipment performance by 2016.

What is the new technical idea? Previous full scale fire experiments have indicated that components of fire fighter equipment do not perform in a consistent manner in high temperature environments. Current test methods and standards do not fully characterize the performance of fire fighter equipment in realistic fire environments. This project will provide experimental data and new test methods that consider realistic fire fighting conditions and which can be used to ensure consistent performance for the components of the suite of equipment used by fire fighters. The current fire fighter personal protective clothing ensemble, consisting of pants, coat, gloves, boots, hood, helmet, and self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), contains gaps in protection between some of the items.  This project seeks to provide data to help develop solutions to the gaps, as well as measure the improvements afforded by the solutions. These topic areas are specifically identified as the top priority issue by the Technology and Science panel at the 2011 National Fire Service Research Agenda Symposium4.

Fire fighting equipment is changing. Electronic technological devices are being embedded in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). SCBAs, have recently incorporated PASS devices, whereas in the past, fire fighters carried separate devices. In the future, it is likely that the fire fighter SCBA facepiece will incorporate a heads-up displays to indicate the status of gear, air supply, temperature, heat flux, fire fighter body statistics, thermal imaging, and situational awareness aids such as location information, and radio communication gear. The thermal performance of these devices must be understood, and test methods must be developed to measure the performance of the gear in fire fighter high temperature rough duty environments. The test methods should provide a consistent thermal exposure indicative of the fire fighter duty environment, so that various pieces of gear provide appropriate levels of performance and protection. This area of research is also one of the strategic focus areas in the Fire Research Division’s Strategic Roadmap5.

What is the research plan? The project consists of three major tasks: 1. Performance of fire fighter electronic equipment (radios, RFID, & locators), 2. Performance of fire fighter self contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), and 3) Performance of fire fighter protective clothing. The first two tasks involve the thermal performance of fire fighter equipment in high temperature rough duty environments. The research plan consists of determining the appropriate metrics for performance evaluation, conducting appropriate laboratory scale and full scale fire experiments to determine equipment performance, and developing metrics and test methods for use in standards. Previous research suggests that fire environment temperatures and heat flux are key performance parameters. While large scale fire experiments are useful for studying the performance of gear, and are especially valuable for capturing three dimensional effects, they are typically unsatisfactory for product acceptance testing. Instead, repeatable and controlled laboratory scale test procedures will be developed to measure equipment thermal performance. The third task, performance of fire fighter clothing, also includes a thermal performance component related to the protection afforded to the fire fighter during fireground operations. In addition, the long term durability of fire fighter turnout gear will be examined, including the effects of sunlight, thermal exposure, moisture, laundering as well as combined effects.


[4] Report of the 2nd National Fire Service Research Agenda Symposium, May 20-22, 2011, National Fire Academy, National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, 2011.

[5] Reducing the Risk of Fire in Buildings and Communities: A Strategic Roadmap to Guide and Prioritize Research, NIST SP 1130, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD, 2012.

Major Accomplishments:

Impact of Standards and Tools:

  • Alarm sound standards for PASS devices to be incorporated into NFPA 1982 Personal Alert Safety Systems (FY2013)
  • Protective turn-out gear durability standards included in NFPA 1971 Standard for Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting (FY2013)
  • Convective oven and radiant panel lens test procedures for SCBAs to be included in the NFPA 1981 Standard for Open-Circuit SCBA for Emergency Services (FY2013)
  • NFPA 1981 Standard for Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus for Emergency Services (2013 edition), FY2013. Research on the high temperature performance of breathing apparatus lens has developed new performance tests which enables the replacement of all existing lens with substantially better performing within the next two years
  • NFPA 1982 Standard on Personal Alert Safety Systems (2011 edition), FY2012.
  • NFPA 1801 Standard on Thermal Imagers for the Fire Service (2010 edition), FY2009.