Sponsored by PGI
By Dalan Zartman for FireRescue1 Brand Focus
As firefighters, we all have our gadgets, tools and trinkets that we are passionate about, with wide ranging disparity between the ranks. The same is often true of turnout gear ensembles, including hoods – and I’m here to convey my very biased opinion regarding PGI’s Cobra BarriAire Gold Hood.
I approached this product with a scientific and objective mindset approximately three years ago when the barrier-style hoods were first making their mark on the industry. I wanted to thoroughly evaluate everything that was available, conduct wear testing, dialogue with the designers and review all the technical data.
This particular hood was the blue-chip leader then and continues to be today. To understand what sets this product apart, we have to start with the designer.
James Sonntag, founding father of PGI, is a radical innovator and unparalleled expert in the field. I first met Jim many years ago when he was developing PGI’s all-hazards gear and I was evaluating it for tech rescue PPE. Jim and I would have hour-long conversations regarding fibers, thread counts, panel design, wearability – the list goes on and on. The education I received every time we talked was both exhaustive and completely worth it.
Jim is a designer and pioneer whose passion for what he produces translates to every stitch in the protective ensembles he creates. He understands what we need as firefighters, and he listens intently to every bit of input that is offered. The design evolution never ends with Jim, as he is always grinding it out to raise the bar. When that kind of excellence goes into design, you end up with a groundbreaking product like the Cobra BarriAire Gold Hood.
The driving reason for developing the barrier-style hoods was a desire to reduce firefighter exposure to extremely small and toxic particles that have been identified as major contributors to cancer. The response was to make an impermeable hood that keeps the particles out. The challenge is to do so in a way that doesn’t add weight, reduce sensory perception or compromise protection.
To illuminate what sets the Cobra BarriAire Gold Hood apart from the competitors, let’s look at three distinct areas:
Most barrier hoods are laminated, which means they are made of particulate barrier material in between layers of fabric bonded together by an adhesive. Laminated hoods do a good job of blocking ultra-fine particles, but they offer very little air permeability (breathability). In addition, the adhesives make the fabric somewhat stiff, reducing stretch, comfort and freedom of movement for the wearer.
Laminated hoods also produce tremendous noise. Imagine having a newspaper wrapped around your head between two layers of material. Every time you move your head, the only thing you can hear is crunching and crackling.
The PGI Cobra BarriAire Hood comprises two layers of specialized material that performs almost silently – no crackling or crunching. The outer layer is a proprietary fire-resistant fabric that provides excellent heat, thermal and flame resistance, as well as superior tensile strength and tear strength.
The inner layer is ultra-lightweight DuPont Nomex Nano Flex fabric, which exceeds the industry standard of blocking more than 90 percent of particles between 0.1 and 1.0 microns in size. This translates in English to being the best hood on the market for keeping out the toxic micro particulates that this hood concept was intended for.
Performance isn’t just about thermal protection and carcinogen reduction – it’s also about drying time. Hoods are one of the first pieces of gear to get soaked with sweat and water. The two fabrics in the Cobra hood work in unison in this arena. The inner layer wicks moisture away to the outer layer, which has a proprietary durable water repellent finish like a nonstick pan. This finish dries two to three times faster than comparable untreated fabrics, reduces toxic residue buildup and enhances contaminate release during wash cycles.
The entire PGI Cobra BarriAire Hood is quilted and stitched entirely with meta-aramid thread, which is highly resistant to temperature, chemical degradation and abrasion. This means a stronger and more resilient hood, as well as a more durable marriage between the two layers. Many of the other barrier hoods cannot be handled like normal hoods because the quilting and stitching can tear and separate the barrier.
Jim conducts more intensive analysis of durability through normal and abusive use and washing than any other manufacturer I’m aware of. This hood was extensively field tested across the country and actively redesigned and re-engineered until it was perfect.
This is the hood that I personally use. I have two of them, and we are required to routinely wash our hoods once a month in addition to exposure washes. Both of my hoods are over a year old and just as intact as the day I pulled them out of the bag.
Fit is essential for a hood to properly protect and not impede or interfere with firefighter ergonomics and duties. The PGI Cobra BarriAire Gold Hood is a true one-size-fits-all hood, with generous cut around the key hot zones to allow thermal pocket protection.
It maintains an appropriately snug face closure to ensure proper marriage around the mask, with built-in stretch and recovery. This means the elasticity doesn’t give out prematurely and result in gapping. The hood also boasts a 23-inch extended length in the front and back to ensure full protective coverage to the chest, shoulders and back.
Carcinogens and cancer are among our biggest threats in today’s fire service. If you are not looking at barrier hoods, you should be. PGI offers a great wear test program – fill out the online form to see if your department qualifies.