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Firefighter Judgment Errors While Wearing PPE

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is necessary for firefighter safety. However, PPE is heavy, bulky, and increases the physiological burden of firefighting. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have found that firefighters make errors in perception when judging their abilities to navigate obstacles while wearing PPE. These types of errors could increase the risk for injury on the fireground.

Research takeaways

  • Firefighters misjudged their ability to step over, duck under, or squeeze through obstacles while wearing PPE. In particular, firefighters drastically overestimated their abilities to duck under obstacles — that is, they made contact with obstacles that they thought were passable.
  • Misjudging movement abilities in PPE may lead to contact with objects and poor navigation choices while on the fireground.
  • To reduce these errors in judgment, firefighter training should focus on increasing awareness of this problem and provide firefighters with repeated exposure to challenging obstacles.
  • Increasing awareness of these errors and providing training for navigation over, under and through obstacles while wearing PPE could ultimately lead to a decrease in slips, trips and falls.

Petrucci, M. N., Horn, G. P., Rosengren, K. S., & Hsiao-Wecksler, E. T. (2016). Inaccuracy of Affordance Judgments for Firefighters Wearing Personal Protective Equipment. Ecological Psychology, 28(2), 108-126. doi:10.1080/10407413.2016.1163987

Learn more about this research

The research article is available through our library by contacting netclrc@fema.dhs.gov. Interested readers may be able to access the article through their local library or through the publisher’s website.

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USFRA Staff
Comment by Janet Liebsch on October 2, 2017 at 8:18am

Great point re gloves Bob

Comment by Robert Warren on October 2, 2017 at 6:00am

Good morning Fyre and all,

Preface:  I'm not a Firefighter but same issue.

A quick short story and solution:  Was working a survey and rescue with volunteer squad.  We entered a residential garage attached to a boat house.  A large fishnet fell from rafters on to me.  I was wearing Kevlar gloves plus welder type gloves on top.  Obviously I could not open my Swiss Army knife or multi tool with the gloves on.  This translates to, in substance, I could not wear PPE (the gloves) if needing a cutting tool.  Gloves are not to be removed in environments of cars and boats.

My solution:  I carry a small blade sheath knife with full-size handle.

A thought:  Glance at a big box store fire extinguisher.  Visualize removing the safety (and sometimes with a vinyl strip also) when wearing thick cargo gloves.  Evaluate your plans.

~ Bob

Tidewater, Virginia 

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