Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Thermal comfort for fire fighters-in-action

Exposure to extreme heat when fighting a fire can cause heat exhaustion, injury and even death. A novel cooling vest may soon help firefighters artificially sweat through protective clothing for longer periods of activity.
Thermal comfort for fire fighters-in-action
Firefighters are in danger of experiencing thermal stress on exposure to the very high heat and thermal radiation associated with blazing fires. The main time-limiting factor for fire-fighters attending to a fire is thermal stress rather than air quality and smoke inhalation. Effective personal cooling could increase a fire-fighter's efficiency and reduce the risk of heat exhaustion. This should decrease injuries and improve the survival chances for fire-fighters and those they are called upon to help.

Scientists developed a novel garment that reduces core body temperature with EU funding of the project 'Lightweight, long endurance body cooling for fire fighters' (STAYCOOL). It promises to increase firefighter comfort and efficiency while reducing heat exhaustion-related accidents. The cooling vest acts to bypass the protective clothing worn by fire-fighters, 'sweating' through a biomimetic surface outside of the firefighter's protective clothing. It incorporates cooling pads or patches that are in touch with the skin and connected to a low-energy heat exchanger system. The heat exchangers use water to remove body heat and transfer it to the environment by evaporation.

The STAYCOOL system is lighter and consumes less energy than comparable cooling vests on the market. Both properties make it suitable for extended use. Its inexpensive, high-volume manufacturing processes help to keep unit costs very competitive. This could also be quite useful to industrial plant operators, police officers with protective clothing working in hot climates and even in extreme sports.

Commercialisation should have major impact on the safety and comfort of fire-fighters while reducing the personal and infrastructure costs of fires. Regaining the market share from low-cost Asian imports and high-cost United States technology will also have important benefits for EU small and medium-sized enterprises.

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