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. The 2014 revision marks the third complete revision to this user standard.

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 2014 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.

New definitions were added to the 2014 revision to differentiate manufacturer-trained organization, verified organization, and verified independent service provider. Perhaps the most significant change in the 2014 revision involves independent service providers. The 2008 revision of the standard contained both verified and non-verified ISPs. The 2014 edition does not recognize any but verified ISPs; in other words, in order to claim to be an ISP in accordance with the requirements of NFPA 1851, the service provider must be verified by a third-party certification organization.

Additionally, a new table was added to Chapter 4 which specifies the responsibilities for garment inspection, cleaning, and repairs. Chapter 6, Inspection, now includes inspection for delamination and label integrity and legibility. Chapter 7 has changes to the cleaning and decontamination procedure, and Chapter 8 has revised requirements for the repair of ensemble and ensemble elements. There are also several changes to Chapter 11, Verification, that affect how an organization or ISP is to be verified, and two new tables have been added that address advanced inspection and advanced cleaning evaluations.

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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. As with other CBRN options, there are additional, very stringent test requirements for the CBRN garment.

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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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