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Personal Protective Equipment Evaluation in Support of the Fire Fighter Fatality Prevention Program

Program Description

The United States currently depends on approximately 1.1 million fire fighters to protect its citizens and property from losses caused by fire. Of these fire fighters, approximately 336,000 are career and 812,000 are volunteers. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the U.S. Fire Administration estimate that on average, 90 to 100 fire fighters die in the line-of duty each year.

In 1998, Congress recognized the need for further efforts to address the continuing national problem of job-related fire fighter deaths and funded the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to implement a fire fighter safety initiative. With fire service stakeholder input, the Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program (FFFIPP) was developed in the Division of Safety Research. In 2001, another division of NIOSH was created. The National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory (NPPTL) was established and responsibility for the testing and certification of respirators was shifted to NPPTL. The events of September 11th necessitated involvement in developing standards for respirators to protect users from chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear agents.

The Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program conducts independent investigations of select fire fighter line-of-duty deaths, to provide recommendations to prevent future deaths and injuries. It is a public health practice investigation program and investigations are not conducted to enforce compliance with state or federal job safety and health standards. Fault or blame is not placed on fire departments or individual fire fighters.

The NPPTL staff with expertise in personal protective equipment, including turnout gear and respirators, assist with investigations by providing evaluations free of charge. Evaluations are conducted in the Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Evaluation Laboratory of protective clothing and equipment worn by firefighters during incidents resulting in a line of duty death or serious injury. The lab is equipped with various self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) tests to determine if the SCBA worn during the incident remains compliant with the applicable regulations. This lab has additional space to visually inspect and photograph protective clothing to determine if it may have contributed to the fatality or injury. The lab also has a limited-access evidence storage area.

Each investigation results in a report summarizing the incident that includes specific recommendations for preventing similar events. The NPPTL staff also conduct evaluations for the fire service that are not related to the FFFIPP upon request.

Program Goal

Our program’s goal is to learn from events and prevent future similar events.

Program Objectives

  • Better identify and define the trends in inadequate PPE
  • Recommend ways to prevent deaths and injuries
  • Provide information to the fire service and standards developing organizations regarding PPE performance

Program Activities

The Fire Fighter Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus and Personal Protective Equipment Evaluation Program

NIOSH has established programs to investigate fire fighter fatalities and injuries in the United States. One component of this program, located in the National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory, is the testing of self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and personal protective equipment (PPE) worn by fire fighters who are injured or killed in the line of duty. These services are provided free of charge.

Personal Protective Equipment Evaluation
This evaluation consists of visually examining and photographing the ensemble elements to determine if there were any conditions of the protective clothing that may have contributed to the injury or fatality. The requestor will be provided with a detailed report of all findings.

SCBA Evaluation
Our evaluation begins with an inspection of the SCBA. The objective of the inspection is to determine if the SCBA is in a NIOSH-approved configuration. The unit is evaluated to determine if it can be safely pressurized and tested. The condition of each major component is assessed and photographed. A sample of any air remaining in the cylinder is analyzed.

If the SCBA is found to be in suitable condition, a series of performance tests are conducted to determine the SCBA’s conformance to the NIOSH certification performance requirements of Title 42, Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Part 84. Further testing is usually conducted to determine conformance to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Air Flow Performance requirements of NFPA 1981, Standard on Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus for the Fire Service.

The evaluation of the evaluation and testing allows NPPTL staff to provide the most meaningful information to everyone involved with the investigation. In a typical investigation, the following performance tests are conducted:

NIOSH SCBA Certification Tests (in accordance with the requirements of 42 CFR 84 and the written NPPTL Standard Test Procedures (STP)):

  1. Positive Pressure Test [§ 84.70(a)(2)(ii)], STP-0120
  2. Rated Service Time (duration) [§ 84.95], STP-0121
  3. Gas Flow Test [§ 84.93], STP-0123
  4. Exhalation Breathing Resistance Test [§ 84.91(c)], STP-0122
  5. Static Facepiece Pressure Test [§ 84.91(d)], STP-0122
  6. Remaining Service Life Indicator Test (alarm) [§ 84.83(f)], STP-0124

National Fire Protection Association Tests (in accordance with the current version of NFPA 1981):

  1. Air Flow Performance Test.

This set of tests provides a good indication of the SCBA’s overall performance. Occasionally, the condition of the SCBA or special circumstances surrounding the incident will warrant the addition or omission of certain performance tests. For example, a special inward leakage test can be performed if there is reason to believe that there is ambient air infiltration into the SCBA facepiece.

The requestor will be provided with a detailed report of all findings. Performance test failures will be noted, but the SCBA will not be disassembled in an attempt to determine the cause of any test failure.

Once the NIOSH evaluation is complete, the SCBA will be securely stored until further instruction from the requestor or a designated authority is received. NIOSH will maintain all chain of custody documentation per the requestor’s requirements, if applicable. Please note that the results of testing are part of the public record and cannot be kept confidential.

To submit an SCBA or PPE to NIOSH for evaluation, please call (304) 285-5858 to coordinate the shipping of the equipment to the NIOSH facility. Pressurized cylinders must be shipped as hazardous materials. Please include a cover letter requesting NIOSH evaluation of the SCBA. In addition, please mark the outside of the package with instructions that the package is to be opened only in the fire fighter SCBA lab.

If you have any questions or would like additional information, please call Jay Tarley (304) 285-5858 or e-mail

Participation on Standards Setting Organizations

We participate on a number of National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and other consensus standard setting committees. This direct participation allows key findings from our investigations to be submitted directly to the organizations and committees best positioned to influence change to improve fire fighter safety and health.