Firefighters wearing cotton t-shirts all seem to share the same complaint that cotton is very uncomfortable to wear at work, as once it gets wet it stays wet, and does not allow the body to cool down. Moisture-wicking t-shirts do a fantastic job at wicking moisture away from the skin, plus they dry very quickly, which helps aid in cooling down the body temperature while reducing the chance of heat stress.
A downfall is the fact that some of the best moisture-wicking fabrics are made of polyester which is known not to meet NFPA 1975 standards for station wear. The melting point for this standard is 500 degrees. However, the polyester we've heat tested stands up to 450 degrees, meeting Worksafe BC Standards.
Good news for BC Firefighters and the Worksafe BC requirement regarding the melting point of fabrics and satisfying G31.15 for Stationwear and personal garments "Section 31.15 of the OHS Regulation states a garment that can withstand 204 degrees C (400 degrees F) for 5 minutes without melting, dripping or igniting will satisfy this requirement."
Independent 3rd party tests to ISO 17493:2000 heat test were conducted on the cotton feel 100% polyester and passed at 400 degrees. Further tests were conducted proving it will hold up to 450 degrees, and to see for ourselves, we pushed the envelope keeping it baking away eventually showing the fabric's integrity failing greatly at 500 degrees.
You can do your own tests too, it takes time and costs a lot, or, ask your supplier for information on the fabrics they want you to buy. This is the due diligence that Fire Chief Chris Walker and the professionals at Victory Design went through, as it meant a great deal to have a clear understanding of the restrictions for approved garments before purchasing, or selling them.
Now you can make informed decisions as to whether the new cotton feel polyester meets the standards you must conform to. Staying cool and dry under ppe is a desire for many firefighters and while cotton doesn't do the trick there are other garments you can try that do meet the requirements.
So our message to firefighters is to know what not to wear! The standards are there for your safety on the job. Your Fire Chief may allow cotton feel polyester shirts into the workplace for wearing only while working out. If it conforms to Worksafe standards then your department may find it acceptable for wearing under turnout gear.
President, Fire-Ed Community