While personal protective equipment (PPE) is a necessary component of every industry that has constant threats to the lives of the people working within it, none of it is more vital than the equipment used by firefighters. Even though quite a few jobs put the workers in danger of getting burned, none are as constantly dangerous as those in which you’re fighting off flames. That means that a firefighter’s gear not only goes through much more wear and tear, but it is also a lot more important for it to remain in pristine condition.
That’s why the NFPA created the 10-year rule for firefighter PPE. In this blog post, we will cover the significance of this requirement. More importantly, though, we’ll go into greater detail on what the 10-year rule is for wildland firefighting equipment and why it’s just as crucial for this subset of the industry to follow.
How the Rule Is Defined
If you weren’t aware, the 10-year rule isn’t an individual law. It is a part of the NFPA 1851 Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting. The NFPA has updated the 10-year rule portion of this document a few times. Currently, though, it states that all firefighter PPE, including coats, pants, hoods, gloves, helmets, and boots, must be retired ten years after the date of manufacture, regardless of care or usage.
While it’s pretty clearly defined, the rule has gone through some changes and has been met with a good amount of controversy throughout the years. Unfortunately, enforcing a law like this is not as simple as it might initially seem.
Some History of the Rule
When the rule was first introduced, the toughest part of the decision to include it by the NFPA was to decide whether to make it a mandatory rule or an advisement that departments should follow. Because of this indecision, they decided to do a combination of both, in a sense. While they wouldn’t force the rule upon the various fire agencies, they’d advise that each department set up their own version of the 10-year rule and enforce it however they see fit.
While this seemed like a fair ruling, it became apparent that most departments had no interest in complying to save on costs. When the data came in that the rule had little to no effect, the NFPA decided to make it mandatory, which it still is to this day.
The Reason for the Rule
One myth that circulates the internet is that the NFPA implemented this rule because the large corporations that supply this equipment got greedy and wanted more money by forcing fire departments to buy more gear regularly. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s the NFPA’s job to ensure the safety and security of everyone who puts their lives on the line to fight fires. The unfortunate fact is that no matter how high-quality your gear is and how well you take care of it, it will eventually fail. In order to keep firefighters safe, the 10-year rule keeps older equipment that’s more likely to give out from getting used in the first place.
On top of that, the technology of fire protection is constantly evolving. Something that might have been top-of-the-line ten years ago might be severely outdated by today’s standards. Forcing departments to buy new, updated gear ensures that firefighters have the best odds of staying safe in a firefight.
Plus, even if the NFPA’s main goal wasn’t to ensure the safety of everyone, no one wants to go through the legal trouble of a lawsuit for negligence or willfully allowing fire departments to use the outdated or worn-out gear.
Why the Rule Is Highly Debated
Despite all those reasons, there is still legitimacy to the complaints about the rules that we should all take into account. The first one to consider is that having a 10-year limit isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Every piece of gear is different. Whether it’s made out of better materials or the company that crafts them is simply better at it than the competition, there are many sets of fire-resistant gear that can easily last longer than 10 years if properly cared for.
The main reason this isn’t considered, though, is that it’s nearly impossible to figure out on an individual level. Even if the NFPA took the time to measure the individual results for every piece of gear on the market, a company could easily change its production standards or start using alternative materials. Both of these changes would throw off all the results. The fact of the matter is that 10 years is a solid average for how long all gear should last, which is why the NFPA uses it.
The more debated complaint is the fact that not all departments can afford to change out all their gear every 10 years. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy fix or explanation for this one. The government would have to get involved to set up programs for groups that struggle to finance this type of investment.
The Rule’s Relevance to Wildland Firefighters
Even though our broad coverage of this topic certainly applies to both domestic and wildland firefighting, we need to specifically cover what the 10-year rule is for wildland firefighting equipment. While the law remains the same, there’s a big caveat that makes it more highly debated for this category. Most wildfires only occur during the hotter months of the year, meaning that wildland firefighters’ gear receives significantly less use than the gear of domestic firefighters.
On top of that, many wildland departments need to have more equipment available for when they must enlist the help of volunteer firefighters, meaning a higher cost when they legally have to replace it. Unfortunately, the NFPA hasn’t made any specifications for this area of firefighting, so if you are in need of some replacement wildland firefighter gear, you should check out what we have in stock.
Here at The Supply Cashe, we do our best to bring you fair and affordably priced gear. We run regular promotions and have a clearance section to help you save on the equipment you need to remain compliant with the NFPA’s rules.