When putting themselves in harm's way to help others, rescue services are not always best protected from the potential danger they face. Researchers from the SAFEPROTEX project have taken a new approach in the development of high-quality protective clothing for emergency workers who might face multiple hazards (adverse weather, heat, chemicals, flammable liquids etc.) without compromising their ability to react in emergency situations.
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“We have developed protecting garments for rescue services facing different risky situations while maintaining manoeuvrability and comfort for the end user,” explains project scientific coordinator Silvia Pavlidou of the Materials Industrial Research & Technology Centre in Greece.
Different rescue services may face different challenges, whether extreme cold and adverse weather for mountain rescue teams or searing heat and choking smoke for rescue teams facing wild land fires. Moreover, first aid medical personnel can face unpredictable situations depending on the nature of the emergency, which gives researchers a real challenge to meet all their needs.
The SAFEPROTEX team first started identifying and developing raw materials for new textiles, yarns, fabrics and treatments with innovative features. Then the team worked on designing protective uniforms to suit mountain, fire and first aid rescue workers.
The project team also developed innovative surface treatments for the fabrics to provide water-resistance, self-cleaning and antimicrobial properties.
“We also had to consider the user’s comfort. Rescue workers may be exposed to temperature fluctuations, for example, but they have to feel comfortable even when it rises suddenly,” explains Pavlidou. “Therefore we incorporated thermo-modulating layers into the garments so the temperature remains agreeable without impacting on the users’ agility,” she adds.
SAFEPROTEX researchers managed to combine all targeted properties – durability, water and wind resistance, heat, radiation and cold protection, comfort, high-visibility, self-cleaning and antimicrobial properties, among others – and developed three ergonomic prototypes “which are currently being tested by two rescue teams in Greece and Spain,” says Pavlidou.
“The rescue teams were involved in the project from the very beginning and they helped identify their needs and set the expectations for the end products. They have been testing the garments during operations as well,” adds Pavlidou. “We’ve had very good feedback on the prototype designed for wild land fires. The rescue services were comfortable and did not feel the heat much (thanks to the garments’ cooling effect) even when they were exposed to it. We still have to make some improvements to the prototype for adverse weather conditions in order to improve its manoeuvrability. But otherwise it was successful as well,” she concludes.
The results have proved so encouraging that two protective-clothing manufacturers (one based in Greece and the other in Spain) have already expressed an interest in implementing some of the project’s key findings and innovations in the manufacturing of their own safety clothing