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FINAL REPORT ON BEHALF OF SHROPSHIRE FIRE & RESCUE SERVICE

Report on the evaluation of two different types of structural 
Firefighters suits to determine variations in energy expended while maintaining a level of work.



Dr. Mark Taylor, BSc (Hons), PhD 







31st January 2012
 
Introduction
This work was performed on behalf of Flamepro (UK) Limited, Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) and Tencate Protect BV to evaluate the effect on firefighter performance of a new firefighting ensemble. The new ensemble (Millennia manufactured by Flamepro (UK) Ltd) was compared to the turnout suit (manufactured by Bristol Uniforms Ltd) currently employed by SFRS. 
The main emphasis of the work was to evaluate whether there was any difference in the energy required to be produced by the body to maintain a level of work between the two structural firefighting ensembles.
During aerobic exercise energy is produced by the body through oxygen consuming reactions. Oxygen consumption usually rises exponentially through the first 3-4 minutes of (steady state) exercise and then remains relatively stable through the rest of the effort. Any extra work the body has to perform (such as carrying increased loads) will result in an increase in the energy requirement (and therefore oxygen consumption). Unfortunately it is not easy (or inexpensive) to measure the level of oxygen consumed without interfering with the exercise in some way.
It is however relatively easy to monitor heart rate (HR) during exercise, and there is a linear relationship between heart rate and oxygen consumption(  McArdle, Katch & Katch (2001), Exercise Physiology Energy, Nutrition & Human Performance, Ch 11.) . We can use this relationship to compare energy expenditure between the two firefighting ensembles by setting a workload level and comparing the heart rate of subjects wearing the different clothing. Any difference in heart rate (and therefore energy produced) should be due to the different fire suits. 
Methods
The study was performed over two consecutive days at a gymnasium provided by SFRS.
Five firefighters were made available for the study (although one had to leave halfway through each day’s activities).
Each firefighter had their existing turnout gear and had been provided with a a new ensemble. Throughout the study the firefighters wore their usual station wear under the turnout gear (as is usual when responding to an emergency situation).
First thing each day the firefighters had their resting heart rate recorded for a minimum of 15 minutes.
Each experiment consisted of 15 minutes of walking on a treadmill. The first 5 minutes was at a rate of 5km/h with no incline (as a warm up) and then the incline was increased to 2.5% and the activity continued for 10 more minutes. During this whole period the heart rate was recorded (by a Polar or Suunto HR watch). The temperature and relative humidity adjacent to the skin at two locations on the chest of the firefighters were also recorded, at 15 second intervals, using Sensirion SHT-75 sensors.
This was repeated 3 times with each firefighting ensemble by each firefighter.
At the conclusion of all testing each firefighter performed a test to determine their heart rate at maximal energy consumption (VO2MAX), this consisted of a treadmill walking/ running exercise at increasing levels of difficulty until voluntary exhaustion (the point at which the subject decided they couldn’t do any more work). This was performed in normal gym wear and not firefighting kit as the intention of the test is to determine heart rate at maximal capacity to then enable energy expenditure to be compared.
 
Data Processing
After each test a mean heart rate was calculated from the last 5 minutes of data recorded (to ensure it is from the steady state condition described earlier), The data was then averaged for each subject in each fire suit.
One problem with the Sensirion sensors used is that when they become saturated with sweat the data is sometimes corrupted, hence the use of 2 sensors to provide redundancy. In most cases sensor failure did not occur and the data was averaged between the readings from the 2 sensors, but in the few cases where a sensor failed, the data shown here is from the single sensor that functioned throughout the test.
 
Figure 1. Illustration of energy expenditure calculation concept.
- see details in the foto album-

Using the linear relationship between heart rate and oxygen consumption discussed in the introduction it is possible to calculate energy expenditure as a percentage of maximal capacity, in this case it has been assumed that the resting heart rate is 0% (HR at rest is subtracted from the mean HR results and the max HR value prior to calculation of the percentage values). Without access to exhaled gas analysis equipment it is not possible to calculate the actual energy expenditure, but the method employed here will highlight any differences in energy produced whilst exercising in the two fire fighting ensembles. The basic concept is illustrated in Figure 1.
Results
The Heart rate results are shown in Table 1. These are the means of the results from the treadmill exercises and of the resting heart rates (the resting data is an average of 2  x 15 minutes resting periods at the beginning of each day). Also shown in table 1 is the heart rate at maximal exercise – attained from 1 maximal treadmill exercise to voluntary exhaustion. The resting and maximal tests were performed in casual wear as they are physiological measures independent of the clothing worn.

Table 1. Heart rate results.
- see details in the foto album-
   

The average skin temperature and relative humidity data from all the trials is shown in Table 2.

Table 2. - see details in the foto album-

Discussion
A cursory examination of the mean data presented in table 1 would imply that there is no difference between the two ensembles in terms of energy expenditure. But a detailed look shows that 3 of the subjects show a reduction in heart rate wearing the Millenia outfit, 1 (subject D) shows marginal decrease whilst wearing the Bristol equipment and 1 a large decrease, also in the Bristol clothing. The small change for subject D is not large enough to read anything into and really shows that that subject showed no appreciable change. Subject E however shows a change of 32 beats per minute (BPM) – a change of 27%. This is the subject that had to leave at lunchtime on the 2 days and it is worth looking, in detail, at the results from each test for this subject (see Table 3).
- see details in the foto album-

The key point here is the relatively large change in resting heart rate (10%), which could be due to the subject being more relaxed on the second day after having already performed the exercise the previous day and realising it wasn’t too onerous. If we discount the results for this subject we see a different pattern arise (see Table 4), the data is also summarised in Figure 2. 
Table 4. Mean heart rates with Subject E removed.
- see details in the foto album-

Table 4 shows that when the heart rate results for subject E are removed there is, on average, a 10% increase in heart rate when wearing the Bristol ensemble instead of the Millenia one. The obvious conclusion is that the firefighters have to work harder to maintain the same level exercise.
It is possible, using the heart rate at rest and at VO2MAX, to express the heart rate data as the energy expenditure as a percentage of the subjects maximum capacity. This data is presented for all subjects in

Table 5 and Figure 3. 
Table 5. Energy expenditure (EE) expressed as a percentage of maximal capacity for all subjects.
 - see details in the foto album-
 
It is obvious from these results that something very strange happened with subject E (as previously discussed), as it is very unlikely that they were really working at 98% of capacity when wearing the Millenia kit. As a result of this the mean data is presented with and without the results for subject E and excluding Subject E in the figure. As can be seen, if the dubious results are included there is less than 2 percentage points difference between the results for the two ensembles, but with these results removed we see a 9 points difference with the Millenia kit the lower.
The skin temperature and relative humidity results show that there is no measurable significant difference between the two types of firefighting clothing.
During the tests notes were taken of any comments made by the subjects about the turnout kit they were wearing. There were no comments made specifically whilst in the Bristol kit, possibly since this was the subjects’ long term wear and they were very familiar and comfortable in it. It is worth noting, however, that 4 out of the 5 subjects did comment that the Millenia kit felt lighter and impeded movement (especially the legs) much less than the Bristol suit. Interestingly even the subject who was provided with a tunic too large also expressed this sentiment. 
Conclusions
In conclusion it was seen that in terms of thermophysiological comfort, as measured by temperature and relative humidity at the skin, there appears to be no difference between the two ensembles. This implies that when wearing the Millenia outfit there should be no detrimental effect on the thermal comfort of the subjects. In effect they shouldn’t feel hotter or sweatier in either suit material, whilst performing the same task.
There does appear to be, however, a significant difference in heart rate (and therefore the energy required to perform the task) when wearing the two firefighting ensembles. This equates to a 9 percentage point difference in energy expenditure, with the existing Bristol Uniforms clothing requiring, on average, over 25% more energy to be consumed performing these activities (127% of 33.6 is 42.6).

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Shropshire FF set
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FlamePro (UK) Limited:
designs, manufactures and distributes fire fighting clothing;
distributes fire fighting gloves, helmets and boots;
distributes gas monitors and smoke hoods;
manufactures and distributes fire fighter's uniform and station wear;
designs, manufactures and distributes fire resistant and specialist work wear;
worldwide distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE).
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