EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla., April 24, 2006 – Being a firefighter is arguably one of the most physically demanding jobs in the military. For that reason, the Air Force is finding ways to make the job easier.
Sixteen firefighters from Eglin are testing new gear that may increase comfort, mobility and mission effectiveness for more than 3,600 active-duty and 2,800 Reserve firefighters in the Air Force.
Air Combat Command is the lead major command for this test since its responsibility includes management of all chemical warfare equipment in the Air Force and the joint arena.
According to Chief Joseph Rivera, Air Force Civil Engineer Support Agency's Fire and Emergency Services program manager, the firefighters are testing an upgrade to the joint firefighter integrated response ensemble, or JFIRE, by potentially replacing the existing chemical protective overgarment with a lighter chemical protective undergarment.
Basically, the new undergarment will replace the existing overgarment when firefighters are dressed in various mission-oriented protective postures, including MOPP-4 firefighting mode.
Currently firefighters are required to wear their chemical gear under silver proximity suits. If the new undergarments are approved, they will be worn under battle dress uniforms to be covered with the familiar silver suits when responding to emergencies.
"JFIRE allows firefighters to egress aircraft under MOPP-4 conditions or respond to other emergencies with toxic atmospheres," the chief said.
"The ensemble allows firefighters to transition from filtered canister air to supplied bottled air when operating in oxygen-deficient environments, or where superheated air and gas exists," he explained.
Chief Rivera said the chemical protective undergarments, which look like a hooded, fitted jogging suit, are lighter and the mesh-like design breathes which makes it cooler. Test engineers from the 28th Test and Evaluation Squadron here are making sure that's accurate.
U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Stacy Baber, squadron program manager, is closely monitoring the firefighter's response. Using heart and respiratory rates, dermal skin temperatures and running times on an obstacle course, she and her team are tracking data results.
Baber enlisted the help of the 823rd Red Horse Squadron, Tyndall Air Force Base Silver Flag Site to design the course.
Some tasks the firefighters are required to perform include dragging a charged hose line and 150-pound victim, a spreader tool carry and three consecutive trips up and down a ladder.
All of this is accomplished while the firefighters are fully dressed out in gear that, depending on size, can weigh as much as 68 pounds.
"Using the design, we can randomize testing to see if the test data confirms what we're being told, that the suit increases evaporative cooling," Baber said.
U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Christopher Proctor, 96th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter said it was a privilege to test the suits for the Air Force, especially since they could potentially be used by everyone in the Air Force fire and emergency services. He said he's worn the standard JFIRE many times in his 17-year career.