Selecting Your Gear: Understanding Standards

Understanding Standards

From NFPA to OSHA, learn what standards govern PPE for fire service and what that means for your turnout gear.

While several states have their own OSHA standards, NFPA standards are almost always more rigorous than OSHA standards. Since the FED-OSHA standard has not been revised for over 20 years, clothing that is labeled to current NFPA standards will easily exceed FED-OSHA standards. However, clothing meeting OSHA will not necessarily meet NFPA requirements, and so it is important for the end users to be aware of existing state OSHA requirements and how they compare to NFPA requirements.

The NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) is a standards writing organization, founded in 1896 and dedicated to the concept of voluntary consensus standards writing. While it is not an enforcing agency, NFPA enjoys a unique reputation and its standards have been adopted by all levels of government, in many cases giving the standards the force of law. Each NFPA standard undergoes revision every five years to ensure that it is kept current with new fire protection knowledge and technologies. The NFPA process requires "balanced" committees and is open to anyone who wishes to participate.

In order for an element to be labeled certified to a given NFPA standard, it must be tested by an independent third-party organization that is not owned or controlled by manufacturers or vendors of the product being certified. The third-party testing agency cannot have any monetary interest in the product being certified. Additionally, the certification organization must be primarily engaged in certification work, such as Underwriters Laboratory or Safety Equipment Institute.

This independent third-party company verifies that the item being certified is in accordance with design requirements, and that the element has successfully passed all performance requirements set forth in the standard to which it is labeled. Any change in materials or design requires additional testing, and random audits, including sampling, occurs at least twice a year to ensure that every requirement is tested annually. A third-party registrar is also required to validate the manufacturing quality process, in accordance with ISO 9001.

ISP stands for Independent Service Provider, which is a term found in NFPA 1851, Standard on Selection, Care and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting, 2014 Edition. The standard requires that any company that wishes to provide inspection, repair, and cleaning services to fire departments must be independently verified by an independent third party agency. To attain this status, a care and cleaning company must have a written quality assurance manual, must undergo specified testing, and submit to third party audits, as well as comply with numerous other requirements as stated in the standard.

NFPA 1851, Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting, requires that structural turnout gear shall be retired when the garment is beyond repair and no longer able to pass an NFPA 1851 Advanced Inspection, or ten years from date of manufacture, whichever comes first. For proximity clothing, reflective outer shells have a mandatory retirement date of five years from date of manufacture.