Many fire departments have evolved from being strictly a fire suppression and protection operation to that of an all-hazards emergency services organization. For many of those departments, providing technical rescue services like vehicle extrication, rope rescue, water rescue and high-angle rescue, is a big part of their package.
As more departments became engaged in technical rescue, firefighters found a profound performance gap existed between the protection and dexterity previously offered by their two glove options.
- Firefighting gloves compliant with the NFPA 1971 offer good protection from cuts and abrasions, but at the cost of a significant loss of manual dexterity.
- Ordinary leather work gloves, that while allowing good dexterity, often were no match for the hazards of broken glass and jagged metal.
Firefighters were quick to adapt and overcome those glove shortcomings. Many of them started carrying auto repair gloves in addition to their structural and utility work gloves.
Likewise, glove manufacturers were quick to spot an emerging market and started to produce protective gloves specifically targeted for each of the technical rescue disciplines.
While early models of rescue gloves used leather as the basic material for the glove's body, all of the major manufacturers of extrication gloves are now using synthetic fibers, either Kevlar of Dyneema, as the major component. Both offer five to 10 times the cut protection of leather.
There are also Kevlar/steel and Dyneema/steel combination gloves, offering 20 times the cut resistance of comparable-weight leather gloves.
First published in 2001, NFPA 1951: Standard on Protective Ensembles for Technical Rescue Incidents (2013 edition) is the applicable standard for "the minimum design, performance, testing and certification requirements for utility technical rescue, rescue and recovery technical rescue … protective ensembles for use by emergency services personnel during technical rescue incidents."
Technical rescue protective ensembles (which include gloves) are defined for use in the standard for utility technical rescue, rescue and recovery technical rescue, and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear rescue.
Specifically, technical rescue utility ensembles have design and performance criteria for technical rescue operations where there are no liquid hazards, such as blood, body fluids or liquid chemical splashes. These operations may entail driving vehicles or operating equipment where the principal hazards are physical.
Rescue and recovery ensembles are intended for technical rescue operations where liquid hazards are present. CBRN technical rescue ensembles are established for incidents involving chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear hazards as the result of industrial accidents or terrorist attacks.
Rescue gloves are addressed as part of the overall protective ensemble for technical rescue in NFPA 1951 sections 6.1.3, 6.2.3, 7.1.3 and 7.2.3. Those sections contain the specific performance requirements for gloves.
Those performance requirements include tests to evaluate the glove's cut resistance, abrasion resistance, puncture resistance, hand function, grip function, ease of donning, flame resistance and heat resistance.
Extrication gloves can sell for $25 to $106 per pair. With proper care, a pair of extrication gloves will last for many years; none of the manufacturers list lifecycle information for their gloves.
Although repeated washings have a softening effect on both Kevlar and Dyneema fibers, neither loses its cut resistance properties.
Making a selection
Today's market offers extrication gloves in many styles, colors and prices. So what criterion is useful in selecting the right extrication gloves?
Although NFPA 1951 has been in circulation since 2001, neither the glove manufacturers nor fire service has to date embraced the certification process for technical rescue gloves.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that NFPA 1951 certification is not an important consideration for fire departments and firefighters when purchasing technical rescue gloves. Absent such demand, the glove manufacturers appear more than willing to avoid the added production expense for the third-party testing necessary to earn compliance with NFPA 1951.
To me, this seems more than a bit incongruent as NFPA 1855: Standard for Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Technical Rescue Incidents, that says, "The organization shall ensure that elements under consideration are certified as being compliant with NFPA 1951…."
Whether or not you opt for NFPA-compliant glove, here are eight features the gloves should have.
- The requisite grip and dexterity for operating specialized extrication and rescue equipment, even when wet.
- Ease of donning and doffing while maintaining desired grip and dexterity.
- Range of glove sizes that ensure proper individual fit.
- Cut resistant palm, side panels, thumb panels and finger panels to protect against such things as punctures, cuts and abrasions.
- Cuff length and closure to prevent debris from getting into the glove.
- Waterproof and breathable barrier that protects against microorganisms such as TB, hepatitis, staph and HIV.
- Protection from bodily fluid exposure, such as blood or urine, which meets the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Bloodborne Pathogens Standard 29 CFR 1910.1030.
- Liquid protection from materials commonly encountered on emergency scenes, such as gasoline, diesel fuel or hydraulic fluid.
Manufacturers of synthetic fibers are constantly working to develop lighter and stronger fabrics — expect a next generation of Kevlar and Dyneema, as well as better fabric and metal composites such as the Kevlar/steel and Dyneema/steel combinations used in today's gloves.
If the evolution of the extrication glove to date is any indication, 10 years from now we will likely not recognize the rescue gloves we wear now.