Standards & Testing: NFPA Requirements

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.

Third-Party Certification

In order for an element to be labeled compliant 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 Intertek Testing Services.

This independent third-party company verifies that the design and construction 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.

Individual Standards

Standard on Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting

This standard sets the minimum requirements for design, performance, testing, and certification of the elements of the ensemble for body protection in structural fire fighting and in proximity fire fighting – coats, trousers, one-piece suits, hoods, helmets, gloves, footwear, and interface elements such as wristers.

As with all NFPA standards, the 2018 edition of NFPA 1971 replaced the 2013 edition, and all previous editions. The 2018 edition was approved as an American National Standard on August 21, 2017, with a final completion date of August 21, 2018. The 2018 edition continues to incorporate design and performance requirements for optional CBRN requirements, and includes several new definitions and revised labeling requirements.

Changes have been made to the performance requirements for all of the ensemble elements, which are reflected in revised and/or new test methods. For garments, one of the most noteworthy new requirements is an OPTIONAL particulate inward leakage test. This new requirement and associated test method is in response to the growing concern over cancer rates in the fire service. The term "optional" indicates that this is not a mandated requirement, but that if a manufacturer is going to claim this type of protection, then minimum requirements must be met. The test is run on full ensembles, including the coat, pant, helmet, glove and footwear elements, and with every SCBA specified for the ensemble by the ensemble manufacturer. The protective hood is also tested when it is not integrated into the coat.


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Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program

This document addresses the occupational safety in the working environment of the fire service as well as safety in the proper use of tools, equipment, vehicles, protective clothing, and breathing apparatus. Career, volunteer, private, and military departments are included in the document. This is the standard that dictates the overlap requirements between coats and trousers:

The protective coat and the protective trousers shall have at least a 2-inch (50 mm) overlap of all layers so there is no gaping of the total thermal and barrier protection when the protective garments are worn.

The minimum overlap shall be determined by measuring the garments on the wearer, without respiratory protection, in both of the following positions:


  1. Position A – standing, hands together, reaching overhead as high as possible.
  2. Position B – standing, hands together, reaching overhead, with body bent forward at a 90-degree angle, to the side (either left or right), and to the back.


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Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting

NFPA 1851 is a user document, originally published in February 2001, and revised in June 2008, in July of 2014 and most recently, in August of 2019, published as the 2020 revision.

The standard deals with fire departments' selection and care of Personal Protective Equipment, and contains chapters on administration, definitions, program, selection, inspection, cleaning and decontamination, repair, storage, retirement, verification, and test procedures. This 2020 revision continues to require the 10-year mandatory retirement rule for structural elements and 5-year mandatory retirement for reflective outer shells specified in proximity gear.

Many new definitions were added to the 2020 revision, which focuses a great deal on the issue of cleaning. These include but are not limited to sanitizer, gross decontamination, cleaning facility, and verified cleaner. The term “preliminary exposure reduction” was introduced, replacing the term “routine cleaning,” as a more adequate description of the activity that occurs on the fireground. In conjunction with the emphasis on cleaning, a new test was introduced into the 2020 revision, designed to measure the effectiveness of cleaning. This impacts any entity that wishes to offer advanced cleaning as a service, with the one exception being organizations who want to clean their own gear; otherwise, verified organizations, verified ISPs, verified cleaners, and manufacturers verified in cleaning must all have written verification from a third-party certification organization to conduct garment element advanced cleaning.

Chapter 5, the chapter on selection and purchase, now requires that a risk assessment be performed every two years or under specific circumstances such as changes that affect risk assessment findings, changes in SOP, or when ensemble elements are being considered for selection and purchase. Additional new requirements found in Chapter 5 are that departments should consider the need for two sets of ensemble elements or spare ensembles as part of their risk assessment, and additionally, that purchasers should consider that ensembles certified for optional liquid and particulate contamination protection [as per NFPA 1971, 2018 revision] are tested and certified as ensembles and must be worn as an ensemble with all elements and interface components present as stated on the element label. The elements used for optional liquid and particulate contamination protection certification include the helmet, hood, SCBA, coat, pant, gloves, and boots. Another change to the risk assessment requirements are that the term “frequency of use” has been replaced with “distinguishing response activities for different potential incidents.”

Chapter 6, Inspection, states that Advanced inspection must be conducted annually or whenever a routine inspection determines potential damage. The Complete liner inspection, including hydrostatic testing of the barrier and visual inspection of inner surface of thermal liner, is now required to be performed annually as opposed to year three in service. With this change in frequency, both the cup test and the flashlight tests have been moved to the annex.

The most significant changes to the document are in Chapter 7, which is the Cleaning chapter. This section now contains two different decision trees to add in the decision of handling, appropriate cleaning, and disposition of ensemble elements. The first decision tree provides general guidance on cleaning while the second tree is specific to different types of contamination. The frequency of advanced cleaning has been changed from one year to at least every six months, resulting in a minimum of two advanced cleanings in a 12-month period, with one of those advanced cleanings occurring at the time of annual advanced inspection. Advanced cleaning must be conducted using a washer/extractor that is programmable to permit multiple formulations for detergent application, water level and water temperature, and cycle type/function and cycle time. Top loading machines, with or without a center agitator, are no longer permitted.

Changes were made to Chapter 8, the Repair chapter, in order to accommodate changes in technology and/or new requirements found in the 2018 revision of NFPA 1971. Repairs to the moisture barrier are now allowed to be performed using different size repair tape, when the moisture barrier manufacturer provides tape in alternate sizes. Visibility markings (i.e. trim) are permitted to be applied over older visibility markings by alternative methods where approved by the garment manufacturer. This is to accommodate the heat applied trim and is generally not allowed for sewn on visibility markings.

Chapters 9 and 10 did not change significantly; as mentioned above, the 10-year mandatory retirement remains. However, the text in Chapter 9 was revised to more clearly identify that ensembles not in use should not be exposed to lighting that emits UV rays, including but not limited to fluorescent lighting, direct sunlight, and indirect sunlight.

While extensive new requirements were added for cleaning and sanitization of protective coats and pants, in Chapter 11 Verification, the verification for cleaning does not apply to helmets, hoods, gloves, footwear, or ensembles with optional particulate and contaminant protective ensembles. For verification of cleaning garments, the verification agency must investigate the effectiveness of the entity’s cleaning processes against the specific requirements added to the standard. This is done using a new test procedure, Chemical Decontamination Efficacy Test, which utilizes a cleaning verification kit. When tested for removal of selected products of combustion, the cleaning process must provide for a 50% or greater cleaning efficiency for the average of all surrogate heavy metal contamination and of all surrogate semi-volatile organic compounds. When tested for neutralization and sanitization of biological contaminants, the sanitization process must provide for at least log103 reduction of the challenge microorganism.

Finally, in Chapter 12, Test Procedures, new tests that have been added to NFPA 1851, 2020 edition are the light evaluation of hood particulate-blocking layers; smoke evaluation of hood particulate-blocking layers; and as mentioned above, a chemical decontamination efficacy test, and a biological decontamination efficacy test.

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Standard on Protective Ensembles for Technical Rescue Incidents

The 2001 edition of NFPA 1951 was titled Standard on Protective Ensemble for USAR Operations. In the 2007 edition, the title was changed to Standard on Protective Ensembles for Technical Rescue Incidents, which remains the title for the current edition. The standard continues to deal with technical rescue incidents in urban and other non-wilderness locations that require special equipment. NFPA 1951 sets forth requirements for the protective clothing and equipment needs of emergency responders engaged in technical rescue activities.

The 2007 edition first introduced three levels of protection: a utility garment, a rescue garment, and a CBRN garment, and those designations remain in place. The big difference in the categories is that a utility garment has a THL (total heat loss) requirement of 650 W/m² and does not require a moisture barrier, which means there is no Whole Garment Integrity Test (i.e., shower test). Both the rescue garment and the CBRN garment are required to undergo the Whole Garment Integrity test, which necessitates a moisture barrier. The Rescue garment has a THL requirement of 450 W/m², and the CBRN garment requires a THL of 250 W/m².

However, with the 2020 revision, the Technical Committee developed a single base garment and ensemble elements, removing the utility, rescue and recovery, and CBRN categories completely. Flammability and thermal stability requirements remained the same, but TPP and conductive heat requirements were removed; while blood borne pathogen protection was added as an optional requirement specified by end user. Language was added to collars and closure systems so as not to be design restrictive. Several tests were removed in the 2020 revision while others were brought in line with NFPA 1971 and new tests added.

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Standard on Life Safety Rope and Equipment for Emergency Services

The very first edition of NFPA 1983 was issued on June 6, 1985, and this edition represents the sixth revision to this standard. Included in the 2012 edition were editorial changes, new definitions, and current terminology.

There were also several new performance requirements added to Chapter 7 of the document, with related test methods added to Chapter 8. These new requirements included those for litters, escape webbing, fire escape webbing, victim extrication devices, escape systems, fire escape rope, moderate elongation laid life save rope, belay devices, and escape anchor devices.

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Standard on Liquid Splash-Protective Ensembles and Clothing for Hazardous Materials Emergencies

The 2012 edition of NFPA 1992 included extensive revision and is the fifth edition of this standard, which was originally published in 1989, with an effective date of February 1990. In the 2012 version, a new requirement for thermal heat loss was added, as well as several updates to ANSI, ISO, and ASTM standards.

Specific to footwear, both the slip resistance testing and the flexural fatigue procedures were revised. The 2012 revision also made changes to requirements for manufacturers’ quality assurance programs in Chapter 4 of the standard.

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Standard on Protective Clothing and Equipment for Wildland Fire Fighting

The 2011 revision is the fourth edition of this standard and became effective on January 3, 2011. This revision features the addition of new tables on total surface area of all reinforcements. The tables on minimum sizing requirements for protective upper and lower torso garments and one-piece garments were revised, and a new annex section explaining thermal shrinkage tests using temperatures less than 260°C were added.

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Standard on Protective Clothing for Emergency Medical Operations

This standard was developed to address protective garments, gloves, and facewear designed to protect persons providing emergency medical care against exposure to liquid-borne pathogens during emergency medical operations.

The 2013 edition is the fifth revision to this document and it continues to specify 25 wash/dry preconditioning cycles and a flame test for textile layers in multi-use garments, as well as the optional CBRN requirements. While the flame test is much less stringent than what is found in NFPA 1971, it is required to be run on each separable fabric layer in the garment.

Specific to footwear, this standard includes revisions to the abrasion test, slip resistance test, footwear upper materials testing, and cut resistance testing. New requirements for garments that were added in this edition include a breaking strength, shear strength, and cycle strength for hook and loop, and several breaking strength requirements for zippers.

Note: On April 7, 2015, NFPA Standards Council issued a TIA (tentative interim amendment) to address protective clothing ensembles. Basically this TIA replaces the THL test with a moisture vapor transmission rate test (MVTR) for single-use garment materials or composites; allows the substitution of footwear certified to other standards, and affects the shower test requirements for single-use garments. In conjunction with this TIA, the name of the standard has been changed to Standard on Protective Clothing and Ensembles for Emergency Medical Operations.

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