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How PPE can lead to firefighter judgement errors

Posted on 25th August 2017 at 13:51pm

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is necessary for firefighter safety, but it is heavy, bulky, and increases the physiological burden of firefighting.

(image: Buchachon Petthanya / 123rf)

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have found that firefighters make errors in perception when judging their abilities to navigate obstacles while wearing PPE. These types of errors could increase the risk for injury on the fireground.

The research found that firefighters misjudged their ability to step over, duck under or squeeze through obstacles while wearing PPE. In particular, they drastically overestimated their abilities to duck under obstacles, making contact with obstacles that they thought were passable.

The researchers say that misjudging the ability of movement while wearing PPE could lead to contact with objects and poor navigation choices while on the fireground. To reduce these errors, firefighter training should focus on increasing awareness of this problem and provide firefighters with repeated exposure to challenging obstacles, according to the research.

The researchers also say that increasing awareness of these errors and providing training for navigation over, under and through obstacles while wearing PPE could, ultimately, lead to a decrease in slips, trips and falls.

  • Petrucci, M N, Horn, G P, Rosengren, K S, Hsiao-Wecksler, E T (2016): Inaccuracy of Affordance Judgments for Firefighters Wearing Personal Protective Equipment. Ecological Psychology, 28(2), 108-126. doi:10.1080/10407413.2016.1163987 is available here 
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