We are continuously asked to advice on the expected life span for Structural Fire Suits, there is no one correct answer.
The life expectancy of Structural Fire Suits is based on the quality of original design and materials in each suit, the level of use of each suit and the subsequent wear and tear. Fire Suits are periodically replaced due to their general poor appearance. It is important to not confuse appearance with performance. Irrespective of the appearance all Fire Suits must continue to provide the same level of protection and performance from the day they are delivered to the day they are removed from use. Fire Suits should be removed from use if the protection and performance is less than that originally tested and certified to.
We have supplied Fire Suits to stations with a low level of annual incidents, and see the same suits in use for over 10 years. We have also seen Fire Suits used in stations with high incident levels requiring replacement within 5 years. In our experience the average life of a Fire Suit is somewhere in between 5 and 10 years.
There are a number of misconceptions in the Fire Service with regard to what determines when a Fire Suit should be removed from use. One of these misconceptions is that the protection and performance of the materials used in Fire Suits reduces during washing and that suits should be removed from use after a certain number of washes, this is untrue. Materials used in Fire suits are inherent and will not be affected once washed and dried as recommended by the manufacturer.
It is essential that damaged Fire Suits are immediately removed from use and sent to a fully qualified Care & Maintenance facility, where the suit will be examined and thereafter repaired and or replaced. All repaired suits will be returned with a certificate of conformance that the repaired suit meets the EN 469 Standard. It is a legal requirement as per the European PPE Directive that Fire Suits (i.e. complex PPE) are maintained by suitably qualified manufacturers only. Suitable qualification includes an independently certified Quality Process System, an independently certified Product Monitoring Sytem as per Article 11B and of course that all products should have been tested and independently certified to an EN Standard.