Fire-Dex Blog

7 Myths About Firefighter Comfort

Two things in firefighting will always be true: 

  1. Fire is hot 
  2. Being in a fire is uncomfortable

Nothing can change the fact that every part of firefighting, from being in a burning structure to overhaul, is dangerous, uncomfortable work. That’s why you need gear to protect you. 

 It’s easy to assume that anything that makes firefighting less uncomfortable means that you’re compromising safety. After all, a pair of shorts and t-shirt would be most comfortable, but no one is running into a burning building with their beachwear on. 

But what if the battle between safety vs. comfort wasn’t actually real? And what if being comfortable sometimes means you’re actually safer in a fire?  

Many firefighters still believe these 7 myths about gear safety and comfort. But they’re just that: myths.  

Myth #1: Breathability Means Gear Won’t Protect Me 

For most of its history, bunker gear has felt like wearing a trash bag. A very heavy trash bag. Traditional thinking says that good protection needs heavy materials that don’t breathe well.  

But fast forward to 2024, and new advances in material science have completely changed the game.  

In 2003, the NFPA finally mandated a test to measure Total Heat Loss (THL). The NFPA 1971 standard sets a THL with a minimum of 205. The higher the THL number, the more breathable the garment. In general, a firefighter can feel a difference about every 20 points.   

Modern turnouts have a much higher THL score. For example, our AeroFlex line of turnout gear has a THL of over 340 (the highest on the market today). This is made possible by our TECGEN71 fabric, which is so light, protective, and strong that it can be paired with the lightest thermal liners and moisture barriers on the market.  

“But at what cost?” you might ask.  

There is often a tradeoff between THL and Thermal Protective Performance (TPP). TPP measures how long it takes for heat to pass through three layers and cause a second-degree burn. The minimum score is 35, which provides 17.5 seconds of protection.  

But the gap between TPP and THL is quickly closing. Going back to AeroFlex, the gear provides the highest THL on the market but still meets or exceeds the NFPA TPP requirements.  

So, what does that mean? You get lighter, more breathable gear that still provides the protection you need in a fire.   

Myth #2: Fitting Doesn’t Matter 

Bunker gear isn’t made to be fashionable. Sure, your department probably spends time picking out cosmetic things like trim color and lettering styles, but at the end of the day the gear just needs to be useful.  

So why does the fit of your turnout gear matter?  

Think about a golfer. What’s one of the first things they do before they swing? You’ll often see them pulling up on their sleeve. They do that to get their shirt out of the way and maximize their swinging motion.  

The same is true for turnouts. Paying attention to things like how your shoulders fit means that you get a greater range of motion. A bad fit means you can’t move your arms easily and prevents you from doing your job effectively.  

A better shoulder fit also means your gear isn’t going to move when you raise your arms. Think of your last overhaul job, raising up your arms to clear debris above you. Did your coat move up too? That means you’re lifting up the weight of your coat, as well as your arms and tools (not to mention your SCBA).  

Well-fitted turnout gear is also important in other areas.  

Take your knees, for example: If you don’t have full motion in your knees, it’s a lot harder to stand up from a kneel or climb up onto a firetruck. If your elbows are stiff, you can’t move your arms. If your pants are too narrow, they’re harder to pull up and won’t stay up as well.  

Modern gear should take all of this into account. We designed our AeroFlex turnouts to move with you—not against you—to provide you with the best fit on the market. The 3D knees are hinged to allow for a full range of motion. The OmniDex shoulders prevent coat rise. The fit of the coat and pants is customizable so your gear actually fits.  

Firefighting is all about movement. Good movement requires that your gear moves with you. More motion means you’re not fighting your gear—you’re just fighting the fire. 

Myth #3: Particulate Blocking Gear Causes Distractions 

It’s becoming more and more clear just how dangerous the threat of cancer is in the fire industry.  

Cancer is a leading cause of death for firefighters. One significant reason is because of particulates and other dangerous substances firefighters regularly come into contact with.  

That’s why so many firefighters have realized that it’s vital to have a plan for dealing with particulates, from particulate-blocking hoods to proper turnout gear cleaning 

But some firefighters worry that particulate blocking hoods are a distraction during a fire.  

Older generations of particulate-blocking hoods often produced a distinct “crinkle” when they moved. This was a massive distraction during a fire, not least because it made it harder to hear the radio and your surroundings.  

But new generations of particulate-blocking hoods, like our H41 Interceptor hood, are made with a new generation of materials that don’t produce the crinkle sound.  

These hoods provide life-saving thermal and particulate-blocking protection—without the distraction.  

Myth #4: Wearing Turnouts Is Fine for Every Call 

For many departments, turnout gear is all there is.  

Structural fire? Turnouts. Overhaul? Turnouts. Elevator rescue? Turnouts. Cat stuck in a tree? Turnouts. 

You should absolutely wear turnouts to a structural call. But for non-structural calls, why bother with all that weight and heat? A minor MVA in Georgia in July is one of the worst places to wear a heavy coat and pants.  

Note that the minimum THL for turnouts is 205. For NFPA 1951 (Technical Rescue) gear, it’s 650.  

Turnout gear is also expensive, so why risk damaging it when it doesn’t need to be used?  

That’s not even mentioning the potentially carcinogenic particulates hanging out on your turnouts. An alternate set of gear reduces your exposure to potentially dangerous contaminants.  

That’s why so many firefighters are discovering the advantages of alternative PPE. It’s lighter, more versatile, and won’t be nearly as miserable to wear in a stifling elevator shaft.  

Think about it this way: you wouldn’t use a bulldozer to knock down a door, so why wear turnouts to every call? Instead, choose gear that makes sense for the job you’re working on.  

When looking for alternative PPE, pay attention to NFPA ratings (like NFPA 1999 for EMS or NFPA 1977 for wildland gear) and features you care about (like mobility, breathability, weight).  

Simply put: choosing the right firefighting gear for the right job means you’ll be more effective. 

Myth #5: Better Gear Means I Can’t Feel Danger 

It’s not uncommon for new cadets to be told they don’t need a hood. The theory is that you need to feel the heat in your ears—if they start to feel hot, it’s a good sign you need to get out of there.  

As discussed above, wearing hoods is a vital part of reducing your risk of cancer. But the point stands: is too much protection stopping you from feeling the fire?  

Higher TPP numbers can mean that you feel the fire less. That can make you stay in a building longer than you should or give you a false sense of security about heading deeper into a structure.  

Modern gear takes that feeling into consideration.  

It’s all about balancing TPP and THL and finding gear that fits your needs. That’s why Fire-Dex offers a huge number of turnout customizations so you can find the balance that works for you. 

We also take that same approach with our hoods. The burning ear trick still works, but you’re more protected against heat and particulates.  

Adding protection doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your instincts. Good gear should help you do your job better—not give you a false sense of security.   

Myth #6: Fire Is My Biggest Danger 

It’s easy to assume that fire is the biggest danger for a firefighter. But the statistics tell a different story.  

We’ve already discussed cancer rates, but the other leading cause of LODDs is heat stress. Overheating isn’t just uncomfortable—it’s potentially deadly.  

Heat stress can inhibit blood flow, potentially causing strokes or heart attacks. Heat stress also affects mental performance and balance, increasing the likelihood of trips and falls (as well as poor decision making).  

That’s why it’s so important to pay attention to THL numbers and to wear lighter alternative PPE when the situation calls for it.  

Another important factor is known as Resistance to Evaporative Heat Loss (Ret). Ret measures how well your gear lets your sweat evaporate. The lower the number, the better.

Sweat evaporation is critical for cooling you down. That’s why we designed AeroFlex with special AeroVent technology that lets air out and allows your sweat to actually cool you down. That results in incredibly low Ret values.  

Myth #7: Washing Is Really Bad for Gear 

As more information comes out about how contaminants on gear affect cancer rates, the idea that heavily soiled gear is a badge of honor is starting to fade.  

But the myth that washing destroys gear still persists.  

That’s because improperly washing gear remains one of the worst things you can do to your firefighter gear. Every firefighter has seen gear get torn up or Velcro become damaged after cleaning.  

So what about proper washing? Far from destroying your gear, it’s actually critical for your gear to be clean.  

There are several reasons gear has to be clean to work well. 

  1. Contaminated gear has less electrical resistance, increasing the risk of being electrocuted 
  2. Soiled PPE doesn’t reflect radiant heat as well as clean gear 
  3. Reflective trim doesn’t work as well when it’s dirty 
  4. Some contaminants (like diesel) can actually weaken the turnout gear materials or cause additional problems (like the very bad combination of open flame and diesel contamination).

When you send your gear out for cleaning and repair, ensure that whoever is doing the cleaning follows NFPA 1851 protocols.   

Safety vs. Comfort 

For firefighters, the battle between safety and comfort isn’t a battle at all. Better materials, gear, and cleaning techniques means that you don’t have to compromise.  

At Fire-Dex, everything we do is aimed at moving the needle to improve heat stress and carcinogen exposure. Our gear is designed to fit you better and perform better than anything else on the market. You don’t compromise on your safety—neither will we.

Find Your Fit With Fire-Dex Today! 


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