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  6. Responder News: New Research Gear Facilitates Response Wildfires

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Responder News: New Research and Gear Facilitates Response to Wildfires

Release Date: September 8, 2015

The intensity of the recent drought in California is currently ranked at D4, the highest rating on the National Drought Mitigation Center’s scale. The dry environment and combined winds often generate the volatile conditions conducive to wildfires. The wildfires are not just caused by nature. The Oregon’s Department of Forestry has noted an uptick in the number of wildfires caused by humans.

A group of firefighters near a growing fire in the woods This National Preparedness Month, it is more critical than ever to recognize the needs of firefighters tasked with responding to the wildfires in the western U.S. In August, the National Weather Service issued Red Flag Warnings for northern California. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CALFIRE) reported over 4,300 fires from January to August this year. The U.S. Forest Services tracks active fires with Geographic information system (GIS) mapping data.

The wildland-urban interface (WUI) is defined as the range where wildfires cross over from nature to developed residential and business areas. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), in partnership with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Maryland and Japan’s Building Research Institute, has made progress in uncovering new data on WUI events. New information on the tactics and deterrents for countering firebrand showers are now available thanks to NIST’s Firebrand Generator, dubbed “the Dragon.”

Wildland firefighters who respond to WUI events regularly face dangers from heat stress, fatigue and smoke inhalation. Wildland firefighters’ personal safety is a primary focus of S&T.

Increasing the protection, safety and comfort for wildland firefighters while lowering the danger is the primary goal of the DHS S&T’s Advanced Personal Protection System (APPS) Project.

Known as the Wildland Firefighter Advanced Personal Protection System (WLFF PPE), the garment system improved the form, fit and function of protective layers. It uses a lighter-weight material to reduce core-body temperatures sustained during work rates consistent to what is experienced during wildfire emergencies.

Finding the balance of heat protection with the desire to develop a more agile fit was challenging, since each wildfire’s reasonable maximal exposures (RME) limit varies as no two wildfires are the same.

The final product was a result of a team effort with the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development & Engineering Center and CALFIRE, with valuable input from firefighters with the U.S. Forest Service and regional fire departments. This design still provides the radiant thermal protection needed for working within WUI zones.

The report released in June 2014 illustrates the final criteria for the design that will greatly assist the needs of our country’s wildland firefighters. State and local responder agencies in the affected areas have expressed their interest since the WLFF PPE has entered the procurement phase.

To learn more about the Wildland Firefighter Advanced Personal Protection System and other next-generation personal protective equipment currently being developed by DHS S&T, please contact SandTFRG@hq.dhs.gov.

Last Updated: 01/12/2023
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