Is it time that Police consider the base layer as their last line of defense?
Photos of an Italian policeman with significant burns have appeared in the media following the recent highway tanker explosion near Bologna on 7 August 2018. (See here) . The officer was providing emergency rescue assistance and was caught in a secondary explosion which inflicted severe burns to his body from the melting, dripping synthetic material. The melted garment is shown below.
Our sympathy and thoughts are with the Italian policeman. This incident also highlights the dangerous decision making within uniform procurement of specifying polyester uniforms and in particular next-to-skin layers, when they know that the users are likely to face dangerous and potentially life threatening situations.
The next-to-skin garments are your last line of defense against heat and flames so the performance properties garments need to be looked at more closely to prevent unnecessary injuries or potential loss of lives.
To understand the current thinking, we tried to understand why a police officer would be issued with synthetic next-to-skin uniforms:
It "wicks" sweat: Wicking is a marketing term commonly used by synthetic clothing brands. There is widespread belief that synthetic based materials move moisture better than fabrics made with natural fibres. This is factually incorrect. To understand this concept you need to understand how a synthetic garment "wicks" mositure:
You, the wearer, sweats with exercise.
Your skin gets wet, the garment gets wet
Once the garment has wetted out the sweat starts to evaporate off the outer surface of the fabric. If you are wearing another layer on top then the sweat has no where to go!
Merino wool is different as it is a hollow cellular fibre that absorbs your sweat in two ways, initially in the vapor form and then liquid before passing releasing the moisture to the outside. Your skin stays drier for longer. Another advantage of merino wool is that the fibre can absorb up to 30% of its weight as moisture before the fabric starts to feel wet vs. 5% for synthetic fabrics so you feel the wetting sensation almost straight away when wearing your synthetic next to skin. In summary, your synthetic garment does not wick moisture the way it is promoted while merino base fabrics keep you more comfortable by managing moisture and by a significant margin over synthetics.
Worn by pro-athletes: The Pro's are paid to wear the garments. The sports field environment where a pro-athlete is using the garment is very different from that of a servicing officer.
Cost:One cannot talk about why users wear synthetics base layers without mentioning cost. Yes synthetic garments cost less, but how much is the cost of reparation from just one burn victim. What is your skin worth to you should you be caught in an volatile situation? Cost is a poor justification as the argument does not consider the potentially life changing implications of being caught in the bad situation. Outfitting police officers in synthetic garments that melt or drip could be negligent.
Moving forward, accepting that the outer layer is likely to be a synthetic fibre blend then the last line of defense, your next to skin layer, becomes vitally important. Potentially this garment is the only defense preventing burns from melting, dripping fabrics.
So what is the solution?
We recommend merino wool base layer and specifically Armadillo Merino®.
There are multiple reasons, but we will focus on three major ones:
No melt or drip burns
More comfortable: Thermoregulates the skin, reducing overheating or chilling
Armadillo Merino® fibre has natural flame resistance properties that make this fibre suitable for use in base layer clothing. The flame retardant properties are due to the wool fibres unique chemical structure (high nitrogen content (14%) combined with a high relative moisture content) which delivers the following benefits:
A very high ignition temperature (570-600°C, over 1000°F)
Doesn’t melt or stick on exposure to heat or flames, instead it forms an insulating char
Self extinguishing – take the flame source away, and the fabric stops burning
A high Limiting Oxygen Index (20- 25%) – with the LOI being a measure of the minimum % of oxygen required to sustain combustion
A low heat of combustion
A low rate of heat release
Less smoke and toxic gases than formed during combustion of most synthetic fibres
A comparison of Merino fibre with other important textile fibres, demonstrates superior performance across virtually all parameters measured.
Another advantage of merino wool is
that it offers a level of thermal protection such as heat from the outside. In the same way that merino wool helps to keep you warm when it is cold it also helps to keep some of the heat out. This is particularly important when using FR overalls as they stop the flame but be less effective in preventing thermal transfer. By adding a merino base layer under the FR coveralls you can significantly increase the user comfort and protection.
See our video below showing how different fabrics burn.
Police protected while training under molotov attacks by wearing FR coveralls combined with Armadillo Merino® base layers.
2. No smell – ever!
Wool helps reduce sweat and odour keeping you drier, cleaner and perhaps more importantly to your mates, less smelly. Body odour is the result of bacteria buildup on the skin and in your clothing. One of the key factors contributing to the build-up of bacteria and body odour is sweat on the skin surface. Sweat does not have any odour, however when the sweat remains on the skin for a period of time the bacteria build up which generates the body odour. Keep the skin dryer and you will produce less odour.
Add to this that bacteria doesn't naturally grow on merino garments, so you will have less smell. No more day-old cotton t-shirt smell! You can wear our merino wool t-shirts for days on end in summer and they wont smell - ever!
3. More comfortable: Thermoregulates the skin, reducing overheating or chilling
An important function of your base layer is to help provide thermoregulation. When you get hot, it needs to move the sweat away from your skin and when it is cold it needs to provide insulation to help keep you warm. If you are sweating then stand in a cold environment then your base layer becomes increasingly important as it may be wet with sweat but it still needs to keep you warm.
What is unique about Armadillo Merino base layers is their ability to move the sweat away from your skin in a vapor state. We call this the breathability of merino and it leaves your skin drier while you sweat in a vapour state.
Secondly merino can absorb up to 30% of its weight in moisture before it feels wet, once again leaving your skin drier. Before a synthetic base layer can start to wick the sweat away your skin must be wet with sweat and the fabric must also be saturated. Wet skin and wet fabric will leave you feeling cold and clammy.
A final reason why merino is a great base layer is felt when the air is cold, Merino keeps you warm by trapping small pockets of air within its fibres and this continues to work even when the fabric is wet. When it is warm the same fibres will help to whisk moisture away from your skin so it can evaporate back into the water cycle!
The combination of these features means less overheating, less sweat, and less chilling producing a more comfortable base layer for police officers on the job.
In conclusion, we believe this is a really important issue for police leaders and procurement managers to be discussing. They need to reconsider what fibres/fabrics are used for baselayer garments towards enhancing the levels of safety, performance and comfort of their officers especially the specialist teams operating in high risk environments.
Look after yourself and your team this summer. You only get one chance to get it right so invest wisely.