V. Simas1,2, R. Orr1,2, B. Scram1,2, E. Canetti1,2, D. Maupin1,2
1Bond University, Tactical Research Unit, Gold Coast, Australia, 2Bond University, Bond Institute of Health and Sport, Gold Coast, Australia

Background: During their tasks, firefighters can be exposed to extreme heat (e.g., 571.5°C at ceiling height). To protect officers from environmental conditions, personal protective equipment (PPE) is worn, which can weigh between 17 and 25 kg. In addition to the load weights, the nature of the equipment and clothing worn is known to reduce mobility and has been considered to increase the risk of injury through increasing the potential for a slip, trip or fall. Given that these are a common mechanism for firefighter injuries to occur, and that the PPE worn by firefighters can increase their risk of a slip, trip or fall, research investigating the impacts of different firefighter PPE clothing variations on their mobility may be of value.

Purpose: The aim of this study was to investigate differences between clothing variations and firefighter mobility.

Methods: Data were collected from eight firefighters using a randomized counterbalanced, repeated measures, design. Three different clothing variants (V1–V3) in addition to current station wear (S) were trialed. Combinations of S and V1 (SV1) and V2 (SV2) were also trialed. Outcome measures included: standing reach height; the Functional Movement Screen [FMS]; vertical jump; a visual analogue scale [VAS] for the FMS, vertical jump, step-ups and crawl; and a mannequin sketch to mark areas of discomfort.

Results: Wearing V1 and SV1 resulted in significantly poorer FMS scores, subjective ratings of performance (VAS scores) and comfort when compared to wearing station wear. Wearing V2 and V3 produced mixed results, with V3 typically performing better than all other variations, including station wear. The VAS scores reflecting how clothing impacted on performance found that participants considered V3 to improve their performance even above that of station wear. V1 and SV1, however, scored poorly and were rated below the station wear score. Officers often considered V3 to allow for an increased ability to complete the task above that of other variations and even station wear.

Conclusion(s): V3 was preferred over S in all tasks and performed better both objectively (FMS and vertical jump) and subjectively (VAS scores). While V1 was typically associated with poorer performance, the impacts of V1 and V2 when compared to each other and S varied depending on the tasks performed. Areas of discomfort across all variations were the knees, followed by the thighs. This research supports and expands on the current scientific evidence regarding the impacts of firefighter clothing on mobility and provides avenues for future research to focus on firefighter clothing as an approach to mitigate firefighter injuries through potentially improving movement capacity and comfort.

Implications: Given the associations between injuries and both FMS and vertical jump performance, any clothing variation that has the least impact on lower limb power development and ability to perform functional movements may help reduce firefighter injury risk. Furthermore, clothing that allows for better performance than current clothing may provide risk mitigation to current injury levels, especially given that not all injuries to firefighters occur while conducting fire suppression duties.

Funding, acknowledgements: This research was funded by Australian Defence Apparel.

Keywords: fireman, fire and rescue, injury prevention

Topic: Musculoskeletal

Did this work require ethics approval? Yes
Institution: Bond University
Committee: Bond University Human Research Ethics Committee
Ethics number: Protocol number 15803 amendment 3

All authors, affiliations and abstracts have been published as submitted.

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