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PyroHands: Trial By Fire
By Caroline Barnhill
What is one of the biggest complaints firefighters have about their job? It’s their gloves. While the current gloves are designed to provide protection against extreme temperatures, they are often bulky and inflexible. Through a recent Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant, researchers at North Carolina State University will attempt to redesign the traditional firefighter glove to provide fire protection with less bulk and greater hand dexterity.
“Firefighters frequently say that bulky gloves impede their ability to pick up things and turn knobs – which can be critical in emergency situations,” says Dr. Roger Barker, professor of textile engineering chemistry and science, director of the Textile Protection and Comfort Center (T-PACC), and lead researcher on the study. “There have been improvements in fabrics over the years. What we need now are advances in the functional design of the glove itself, to go along with the advances in glove materials.”
Barker and his team at NC State will begin their research by speaking with firefighters to discuss their needs and wants in a glove. Based on their feedback, the researchers will test a variety of textile materials for thermal protection, grip, breathability, insulation and flexibility – among other characteristics – and design prototypes of the next generation firefighter glove.
|Dr. Roger Barker leads a team of researchers developing better protective clothing for first responders.|
The testing of the glove will be conducted on T-PACC’s state-of-the-art PyroHands Fire Test System – a life-sized hand manikin made from a flame resistant composite that provides realistic simulation of a human hand’s response to intense heat exposures. PyroHands, which was developed through a grant from the U.S. Department of Defense, has 21 sensors – 20 in the palm and back of the hands and wrists, and one in the middle finger – that provide valuable data about the level of heat exposure and the predicted burns as result of a fire. PyroHands is an extension of the NC State’s PyroMan, a fully instrumented, life-sized manikin capable of evaluating the performance of thermal protective clothing with 122 individual heat sensors placed throughout the body. The system is part of a sophisticated facility that features computerized, animated analysis of the response of heat sensors to permit the study of garment and body reaction to intense heat and flames.
“By using PyroHands to test glove prototypes, we will be able to measure the distribution of fire protective insulation over the surface of the hands. This should help us develop improved glove designs by showing the locations on the glove where thickness and bulk might be reduced without compromising thermal protective performance,” Barker says.
This project is the latest of several grants NC State has received to support research that benefits the firefighting industry. In 2003, Barker and team received a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to develop a prototype of new firefighter turnout gear, which offered increased protection against heat and chemical and biological agents while also improving comfort and durability. Earlier in 2009, Barker’s team received grants from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the National Fire Protection Research Foundation to develop a testing apparatus and measurement protocol that allow firefighter suits to be evaluated for their ability to prevent and minimize stored heat burns.