Fire-Dex Blog

Understanding Your Firefighting PPE, TPP, and Limitations

Guest Writer: Andy Starnes, Instructor for Insight Training, LLC

Have You Read the Instructions on Your Turnout Gear Lately?

The next time you are at the fire station, ask your comrades if they have read the instructions on their PPE then wait for the awkward silence to end and ask the following questions:

  • What is the TPP of your gear?
  • When was the last time their gear was inspected (all three layers)?
  • When was the last time their face piece was inspected for micro cracks due to thermal insult?

A firefighter’s PPE reduces their risk of burns & injuries. However, they are not indestructible shields from all fireground elements. The User Information Guide advises firefighters to “be constantly alert to the possibility of exposure to radiant, convective, or conductive heat and other hazards” (FEMSA User Guide p. 2-4).

How do Firefighters Measure Heat?

Some firefighters advocate that heat is the best way to indicate your level of safety. This is why it’s important to understand the Thermal Protective Performance (TPP) of your protective gear, but solely relying on this instinct alone can be dangerous. You should always be aware of your surroundings, keep current on best practices taught in fire training and rely on our brothers for extra support when available. Some departments may even consider utilizing new technologies and diagnostic tools like thermal heat imagining to help prevent thermal insult and identify while making it easier to locate the fire’s severity and assist victims in danger more quickly than ever before.

What is TPP & Why is it Important?

TPP stands for Thermal Protective Performance which equates to our PPE’s ability to protect us from a second-degree burn. This is often associated with the thermal insult that occurs during flashover conditions, but TPP is much more complex than this. It is the rating on how long a firefighter can operate in a specific thermal environment based on temperature, heat flux, and duration of exposure and the overall condition of his or her PPE.

How Do You Maximize the Life & Effectiveness of Your PPE?

Understanding what factors contribute to the reduction of your PPEs ability to perform like it did the day you took it out of the box will help you to recognize the proactive measures you must take to keep its longevity. The following are a few powerful factors that limit your PPE’s overall effectiveness:

  • Dirty Gear: Dirt/Soot
  • Wet Gear (Perspiration included)
  • UV Damaged Gear
  • Prior Burn damaged (thermal bruising to the moisture barrier)
  • Saturated Gear (with thermal energy due to failure to properly cool the environment)

Why is Washing Gear so Crucial?

More fire departments across the nation are implementing standards for regularly washing gear and decontaminating on scene. Dirty gear not only continually exposes the firefighter to carcinogens and unknown chemicals absorbed from the incidents they face but it also greatly diminishes their level of thermal protective performance in a fire. The contaminants found on PPE from various incident exposures can gradually breaks down the fibers in the gear. Dirt and contaminants should always be removed from PPE at the earliest chance possible to keep it from abrasive wear.

Make a difference. Start the conversation in your department.



Instructor Andy Starnes of Insight Training is a lifelong student of the fire service and has been involved with the fire service as a volunteer since 1992 and as a career firefighter since 1998. He is a fire service website contributor on the topics of thermal imaging, fire behavior, leadership, modern fire terminology, and behavioral health. Andy is also the founder of Bringing Back Brotherhood, a nonprofit organization designed to guide firefighters in the areas of behavioral health and counseling.

Categorized: PPE Care, Andy Starnes


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