SYMPOSIA PAPER Published: 01 January 1997

Fire Fighters' Protective Clothing and Thermal Environments of Structural Fire Fighting


Fire fighters' protective clothing is designed to perform several functions. Of these, protection from heat and flame is one of the most important. Today's fire fighter protective clothing designs are based on years of field experience and research studies which addressed structural fires. Much of this work has concentrated on the fire environment where a fire fighter suddenly becomes enveloped in flames. This exposure generally results in serious life threatening injuries and sometimes death. Little appears to have been done to address the conditions where most burn injuries occur, outside of the flaming envelope. This paper attempts to define the general thermal environment at locations where fire fighters stage and begin their attack on a fire.

A great deal of research has been done to evaluate structural fires as they relate to building design, materials and contents. Only small elements of these data have been used in evaluating the thermal environment around fire fighters during normal attack situations. Results from early and recent studies clearly demonstrate the severity of thermal environments at fire attack staging areas. The flow of hot gases from a doorway or through a window may be well above 400°C (752°F) and may extend tens of meters down a corridor or across an adjoining room ceiling. Thermal radiation from a room's open doorway or window may reach levels which will cause burn injuries to exposed skin and cause charring or ignition of protective clothing fabrics which result in burn injuries to protected skin. Surface temperatures of solids within this staging zone may easily exceed 100°C (212°F), and touching these surfaces without protection could result in a sudden burn injury. A brief scenario is presented which serves as an example of how a fire fighter could receive second degree burns while attacking a fire from outside of the flaming envelope.

Author Information

Lawson, JR
Building and Fire Research Laboratory, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Gaithersburg, MD
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Developed by Committee: F23
Pages: 334–352
DOI: 10.1520/STP19915S
ISBN-EB: 978-0-8031-5350-9
ISBN-13: 978-0-8031-2402-8