Oli Willson, WL Gore & Associates (UK) Ltd Professional and Technical Footwear Associate, reports on why protective footwear that has been designed specifically for firefighters is as essential to their safety as any other part of their equipment
The design technology used in firefighter’s boots today was unimaginable back in the ‘80s when footwear consisted of a basic pair of rubber boots. Since then, footwear has evolved from rubber to use of leather and other lightweight but durable material for soles.
One of the most significant milestones in the development of footwear protection was the introduction of a waterproof breathable membrane that keeps the foot dry from the inside as well as the outside and helps to manage the temperature inside the boot. Gore pioneered this technology and was first to introduce the GORE-TEX durable, waterproof, breathable membrane into firefighter boots.
The company continued to lead innovation with the introduction of CROSSTECH® technology that adds durable protection from blood, body fluids and common chemicals in accordance with ISO 16603, EN ISO 6330, EN ISO 6530, ISO 13994 and NFPA 1971-2013.
The soles of our feet sweat more than anywhere else in the body, producing around half a litre of sweat every day. That is a lot of moisture to build up inside a boot and if that sweat cannot escape as moisture vapour, feet become damp and begin to feel cold very quickly.
Firefighting boots with GORE-TEX and CROSSTECH® technology maintain performance throughout their working life and in all conditions and are built to withstand the extreme environment of the fireground. They are robust and hard wearing, giving maximum comfort and protection, no matter how long the task at hand lasts.
Every product made with GORE-TEX fabrics is tested by Gore engineers in the company’s own laboratories. These include an environmental chamber that can recreate up to 95 per cent of the environments on the earth’s surface, from the frigid temperature of Everest and the blazing sun of Death Valley to Amazonian rainforest humidity. There is a specific test for protective footwear in a walking simulator that simulates walking in rain for a long period of time. The boot is submerged in five centimetres of water and flexed 500,000 times. The wearer’s body weight and walking speed are also simulated. Sensors in the boot react as soon as the smallest amount of moisture enters the boot.
The stringent testing regime ensures that there is no weakness or vulnerability in firefighting footwear that might compromise performance at any time during its working life. Gore technicians work closely with leading footwear manufacturers to design innovations into its boots that deliver superior performance, like only bonding at specific points to maximise breathability.
This robust system of audit and testing ensures that boots and shoes that incorporate a Gore membrane consistently deliver a combination of comfort and protection beyond the levels achieved by most footwear. The durability of the products means that they are tested to last much longer in everyday use delivering a real cost benefit over the lifetime of the product.
Leather boots made with GORE-TEX footwear fabric are comfortable, helping to reduce the fatigue that can come from running up and down stairs and climbing ladders. Research undertaken in the USA indicated that firefighters are four times more likely to have a hazardous slip when wearing rubber boots that when wearing leather boots.
There have been huge strides taken in the evolution of protective footwear for firefighters over the last 30 years. As that development continues the firefighter of tomorrow is likely to benefit from new lighter weight materials that reduce water pickup without compromising protection. Gore continues to invest in development programmes that sustain the progress of innovation to develop new materials and technologies to previous unimagined levels of protection and performance.
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