As far as I can tell, the number one threat facing the modern megalopolis, skyscraper dweller (either primarily or as a secondary concern) is fire. Train derailment sparking a conflagration. Civil unrest (or professional football/baseball/hockey game fan rejoicing) is often highlighted with fires. An underground power station transformer blows setting the cooling oil on fire. A jack-knifed, suicide jockey pulling a tandem for the downtown gas station gets punctured and goes up in flames. A meteorite hit transforms kinetic energy into fire. (Feel free to come up with your own “worst case scenario”.) How many think of a flame retardant (FR) coverall for their bags?

Additionally, the female, professional, office worker rarely wears clothing appropriate for slogging through an emergency escape scenario. Females wear so much plastic against the skin (stockings, underwear, blouse, hair things, ….) that I’m really concerned with potential of extensive burns from the plastic simply melting into the skin from heat that the human could otherwise survive.

So having replacement, utilitarian clothing would be of benefit, both to protect from heat and flame, as well as just from the elements once outside. It will also protect from potential cuts from traversing rough passages.

Finding relatively inexpensive, but good quality FR coveralls is daunting. Snooping through the various Army/Navy surplus stores for real, FR, mil-surplus coveralls (aviator or mechanized) has been fruitless. Used, FR impregnated cotton coveralls are not “good enough”. The retardant washes out and with used gear, it is an unknown if the cotton coveralls are actually FR any more. Also, the “cotton kills” mantra would apply; as the coveralls should also protect once outside in whatever weather.

Nomex IIIA would be my best choice. At a couple hundred dollars per for one coverall (with the desired features), it is a heavy investment. Especially for those who make multiple BOB/GOOD/GO bags for stashing in various locations.

Other items are needed to complete the outfit. Boots, gloves, and even safety goggles are more easily sourced. I am not trying to duplicate a fireman’s bunker gear on the cheap. I am trying to balance cost versus saving a life, skin, or limb during an emergency.

What I’ve determined as a minimum desired set of features in FR coveralls are:
– Nomex IIIA, including thread and zipper backing.
– Mandarin style collar able to stand up for neck protection, preferably with a FR Velcro tab.
– Wrist cinching closure, preferably FR Velcro tab.
– No sleeve forearm openings (as found in men’s, long sleeved shirts) – fully fabric covered.
– Inside and outside covered zipper.
– Any snaps are covered so no metal is exposed.
– Navy blue, or similar, nondescript color. (Sometimes you don’t want to be so easily spotted.)

Other options that would be good to have in FR coveralls include:
– Fully gusseted leg openings, preferably with zipper closures, for donning without having to remove the footwear.
– Heavier weight (4.5 oz minimum, 6 or even 9 oz might be better).
– Pass-through, front pockets (so pants pockets or waist pouches are reachable under the coveralls).
– A breakaway, safety zipper.
– “Action back” darts for more freedom of movement.
– Integral, elastic waistband for keeping the extra fabric close to the body so it doesn’t snag.
– Multiple pockets with securely closing flaps.

Anything is better than nothing. If real FR coveralls are beyond the budget, at least acquire utilitarian, non-FR coveralls for the interim. Simply covering the skin can go a long way in protecting the individual during a fire.

Do not use plastic or paper based coveralls (painter’s suits or the like). These are flammable. It defeats the purpose. These types of coveralls can be useful in a non-fire environment where the skin is being protected from other things (chemicals, bird/swine/other flu, rain, …).

When wearing coveralls for maximum protection, do not pull the boots up over the coverall legs. With the legs of the coveralls going over the outside of the boots, no falling debris can get caught in the boot.

The sleeves should be rolled down and the wrists closed tightly with the gauntlets of the work gloves. It may seem counter to the legs on the outside, but when doing work, the hands tend to be raised and items will fall out rather than in. It also allows for quick glove removal if the gloves gets pinched somewhere or if you want to use the back of the hand to feel for heat through doors or walls.

The coveralls should be fully zipped up, with the collar raised and secured as best able to cover as much skin as possible.

D. Period – All rights reserved – 2009 – Use permitted by all only with attribution.

Originally posted on July 2, 2009 @ 6:56 pm