SSC-Natick Press Release
U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center-Natick
Public Affairs Office
Natick, MA 01760-5012
Contact: Chief, Public Affairs Office
Date: March 9, 2004
Navy firesuit expands coverage
NATICK, Mass. -- First Attack Firesuit resembles a dark-colored pillow until one seam is opened to unfold a coverall-style uniform donned in about one minute to protect sailors responding to shipboard fires.
The new firesuit, developed by the U.S. Navy Clothing and Textile Research Facility located at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass., was driven by reduced manpower requirements for the Navy's next-generation DD(X) family of ships.
With about one-third of the manning of current ships, the Navy can't afford to have as many dedicated firefighters and will need more sailors to assist in putting out fires, said Harry Winer, a textile technologist and project officer for the First Attack Firesuit.
"The concept (of the new firesuit) is to get to the fire at an early stage and expect the damage and loss to be less because of speedy deployment of the suit," he said. "We plan on hanging the suit anywhere along the ship so that any sailor can use it. We expect every sailor to be able to be a firefighter."
By contrast, the standard firesuit is now stored in three rooms aboard the ship.
When the alarm is sounded, firefighters head to the fire locker to get dressed and then move to the fire, which by then may have grown much larger, according to Winer. The new firesuit will allow the nearest sailor to don the suit and put out the fire.
The capability is assisted by the new firesuit's two sizes instead of the standard firesuit's 18 sizes. Winer estimated that 75 percent of the population will fit into the smaller size with the rest fitting into the larger size. Velcro fasteners around the waist adjust leg height for a better fit.
Once removed from the pocket bag, sailors simply pull the new firesuit over their heads and close the zipper that starts at one ankle, follows an arc peaking along the stomach and then stops at the other ankle.
The suit material is composed of a filament slick liner to slide more easily over clothing, an intermediate barrier and outer shell of the latest fire-resistant fabrics.
It comes with an attached instead of separate hood, attached thumb wristlets and a back cargo pocket. Loops for hanging the suit are stitched onto the bag, and gloves are included separately.
Compared to the standard suit, the new firesuit is expected to cost 40 percent less and weighs 5 pounds instead of 8.5 pounds.
Flame and heat protection of the material is slightly lower, but in reality, the difference is negligible, according to Winer.
"It's almost like a big sack pulled over you. That gives you a lot of trapped air good for insulation from the fire and heat," he said. "It's best if it's a loose suit. The old suit is a form-fitting garment and can't be packed up."
A coverall-style of firesuit is desirable because the clothing is less likely to get caught in the confined spaces shipboard, and it restricts hot air and gases that might enter with a two-piece garment, he said.
Two different dark-colored pockets will be used to indicate the two sizes, and the firesuit will be labeled with reflective lettering that glows in the dark to aid visibility if the lights go out.
Firefighters aboard a fire research ship evaluated the new firesuits last year, and designers are preparing for the final laboratory demonstration with instrumented thermal manikins and another demonstration on the fire research ship as soon as this spring.
Winer said everyone preferred the First Attack Firesuit to the standard firesuit. The lower weight contributes to improved comfort, which reduces the amount of stress on firefighters. Although designers wanted the least amount of frills, firefighters got the cargo pocket upon request.
"In testing, the firefighters said they felt no heat. One guy let fire hit him in the chest," he said.
Initial fielding is expected to begin in about a year aboard today's ships.
One technology that might be adopted is reflectivity built into the outer-shell fabric to replace reflective stripes attached along the arms, legs and torso.
Winer said the fold-into-its-own-pocket design, unique for any piece of protective clothing, draws initial disbelief, but it soon wins over any naysayers.
"When you first see it, you go 'Oh no,' but when you wear it, you fall in love with it. Firefighters fall in love with that suit," Winer said.
For more information about the Navy Clothing and Textile Research Facility or the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center, please visit the websites at http://www.navy-nex.com/command/nctrf/nctrf-index.html and http://www.natick.army.mil.