We are only as strong as our weakest link.
It is important to know what the weakest link in the chain is. We are only as strong as our weakest link. When is comes to today’s firefighting personal protective gear including SCBA, according to research done by NIST ( National Institute of Standards and Technology), the face piece will fail first.
What does this mean?
Well, if I had a choice, I would prefer my face piece to fail last. Don’t you?
The reason being is that I want to protect my lungs, eyes, nose, mouth and life the most. I can much more easily recover from burned ears or legs then I can from having a face piece melt and having to breath in toxic gases at extremely high temperatures. When our face piece fails, it is virtually impossible to survive. Don’t you agree?
So we need to realize that the weakest link to our personal protective gear is also our most important.
The glass transition(softening) temperature of Polycarbonate, as reported in the literature used in the NIST study, is between 293ºF(145ºC) and 302ºF (150ºC). The melting temperatures ranged depending on the type of polycarbonate between 419ºF-640ºF(215ºC-338ºC)
How can we protect ourself?
Well, one thing that I do is to have a hood that will feel the heat at a lower temperature than the failure point of my face piece. This way my ears and neck start to burn from the heat telling me that its too hot and to get lower and get out. It’s like a safety warning device. I’d rather have to deal with burned ears then burnt lungs. Also, I can speak from experience that when the ears start burning, we seem to hustle out a lot faster. We stop thinking, “maybe I have another minute or 3”, and we start moving with purpose to get done and get out.
If our whole body is protected to 800 degrees Fahrenheit but our face piece is going to melt at 500 degrees Farhenheit, to what degree are we really protected?
Remember, we are only as strong as our weakest link.
Currently, according to testing and research, the weakest link is our face piece.
Think about this for a moment. Your in an apartment fire doing a search and the conditions are tough; smoke banked down low and getting worse and you see your face piece start to have small bubbles on it. As you start to put your gloved hand on it( or not) it starts to open a small hole the size of a dime in your face piece Polycarbonate. As you now try to limit or stop the super heated toxic gases from entering your face piece by covering it with your gloved hand, your hand by touching the face piece Polycarbonate becomes glue or jelly like material. Now your face piece is now compromised. Is it game over?
Be smart, know the limits of your gear and what the weakest link is. Know when to get out. Have a hood that has a lower rating so you can feel the heat on your ears and neck before your face piece starts to bubble, soften or melts.
Be Safe. Be Ready.
Let me know your thoughts. Do you agree? Disagree?