How to understand test results for protective clothing for firefighters

There’s such an enormous amount of information to absorb when choosing your new firefighter gear, it’s important you know how to understand the test results for protective clothing for firefighters.


Here’s a simplified explanation of the information you should expect to see from firefighter protective clothing manufacturers and guidance on what to look for in the test results.


Checking compliance with the relevant safety standard

The first step in assessing any protective clothing is checking the test certificate has been issued by a Notified Body – one that’s qualified and accredited to do the tests and provide results.


Next, you’ll need to know the protective garments meet the standard for firefighter protective clothing. EN469:2020 is the brand new standard which you can expect all gear to meet from early in 2021. Manufacturers do get some grace to ensure their garments are re-tested and certified, so you could also see kit which meets EN469:2005.


On the test reports will be a column listing the applicable essential health and safety requirements. There needs to be a tick in every box to demonstrate the protective clothing meets the standard.


One incredibly important test is the mannequin flash fire test. This shows what happens to the kit after eight seconds of intense heat simulating a flash fire. You’ll get an indicative burn prediction for second- and third-degree burns – lower numbers are better here. If you can go along to see the test you will also benefit from being able to see what happens to the kit afterwards. Does it break open or retain its strength?


The variables in protective clothing for firefighters

Specifying the right kit for your brigade isn’t as straightforward as simply understanding the test results for firefighters’ protective clothing, it’s about striking the right balance between all of the variables that make up a good structural suit. Higher numbers on the tests don’t necessarily mean a suit is “better”.


Each manufacturer will choose a different fabric blend, a different shape of suit, and will put the emphasis on some factors more than others, while remaining compliant with the standard.


A suit that provides more thermal protection will be heavier, meaning your crews will get tired more quickly and could be more at risk from heat stress. If the suit sacrifices some breathability for protection your teams could suffer scalds or steam burns as moisture builds up inside the suit. You might also want to assess tear strength and burst strength so you have an understanding of how well the suit will stand up to the rigours of the job.


In making a selection for your next round of firefighters’ protective clothing you should also consider how many washes and dry cycles the suit will stand. The industry’s understanding of the risk of particulates and other contaminants is increasing; regular washing of kit is one of the major ways to mitigate this risk. If the suit you’re considering is recommended to withstand 50 washes and you’ll need to launder your kit every week, the kit needs replacing in a year.


Considering whole of life costs, not just up-front purchase price, is another important factor when choosing protective clothing for your fire brigade.


If you’re putting together the specification for your next purchase of structural suits and want to chat through how to understand test results for protective clothing for firefighters, give one of our friendly team a call on +44 (0) 1332 341030.

Understanding heat stress and how to prevent it

When the average firefighter needs to evaporate about a litre of sweat every hour to regulate their body temperature, understanding heat stress and how to prevent it is useful knowledge for crews.


Fighting fires tests the limits of the human body and can increase a firefighter’s body temperature to over 38 degrees. Firefighting kit is designed to help keep the firefighter’s body within the normal range, protecting health and wellbeing.


Good hydration and heat acclimatisation are important factors to reduce the impact of heat stress on firefighters, but the key component of heat stress control is the selection of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).


Risks of heat stress


The risks of heat stress on a firefighter can’t be underestimated. Mild heat stress might start with your firefighting crews tiring more quickly, meaning it takes longer to get a fire under control as they are unable to work as quickly. Left untreated, heat stress can lead to poor decision-making as cognitive function deteriorates, and massive pressure on the body’s natural functions, significantly increasing their risk of a heart attack and death.




Insulation is an important part of any firefighter kit, but it stops heat travelling in both directions. While it is essential to keep the heat of the fire away from the human body, it comes with the risk of preventing body heat leaving the suit.


When it’s humid – inside a sweaty firefighting suit, for example – the air in the suit isn’t cool, dry and moving, making it difficult for the vapour to leave the firefighter’s body, reducing the effectiveness of sweating.


Moisture barriers that make a difference


The moisture barrier in firefighting turnout kits help protect against water, chemicals, and viral agents leaching through on to clothes and skin underneath. But they also need to allow moisture out of the kit to minimise the chances of firefighters suffering from steam burns.


All moisture barriers are not created equal. Some suits feature a solid plastic lining, like a bin bag inside your suit. You can imagine how comfortable that’s going to get in the heat of a fire.


A good moisture barrier is designed to let vapour through, but not liquid, making a suit breathable. In this way, the moisture barrier plays an important role in regulating body heat as it allows as much sweat and vapour out as possible.


There are three types of moisture barrier product technology used in firefighters’ protective garments: microporous, monolithic, or bi-component. Each of these barrier technologies has a different level of effectiveness:


• A microporous membrane contains small passages or holes, which allows for air permeability and offers water vapour transfer by air-diffusion.


• A monolithic membrane is a continuous polymer layer without any passages (holes), and, therefore, does not have any air permeability. However, breathable monolithic moisture barriers use hydrophilic polymers which allow water vapour transfer through molecular diffusion instead.


• A bi-component moisture barrier product uses a combination of microporous and monolithic technologies, and allows no air permeability.


Don’t let moisture barriers compromise mobility


When it comes to choosing structural fire suits for your crew, it’s important to consider how easy the suits are to move in, the different requirements of the team and the work they do. Making it easy to move helps to reduce muscular strain and in turn heat stress.


Passing the test


Before you buy firefighting kit for your crew, check the moisture vapour resistance rating (also known as the RET rating), a measure of how breathable the kit is. A lower number is better for this test. Breathability is the key to preventing heat stress. Read more about the tests and standards firefighting kit needs to meet in our blog.


For our full range of products, including moisture vapour resistance ratings, take a look at the catalogue on our website. Or if you want to chat to our team to improve your understanding of heat stress and how to prevent it, give us a call on +44 (0) 1332 341030.