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Research

Science backs wool base-layers for first responder clothing

Photo: Frank Rossoto Stocktrek


Wool’s natural resistance to fire has been further endorsed by a new scientific study, which found wool base-layer garments are a proven defence for first responder personnel.

The study, undertaken by AgResearch, found wool and wool-rich fabrics performed the best, while the 100% synthetic fabrics (made from polypropylene and polyester fibres) performed the worst due to their propensity to melt and damage the skin.

Wool and protective clothing

Wool has long been a choice for protective clothing - with wool used to protect wearers in hostile environments and weather conditions - making wool the fibre of choice for outer-layer garments. Now, the military and first responders such as firefighter and police officers are looking to base-layer Merino wool garments as the body’s ‘last line of defence’ due to wool’s breathability and its inherent properties of high ignition temperature, high limiting oxygen index and self-extinguishing behaviour.

Study proves wool's flame resistance protects  first responder and combat personnel

A selection of fabrics used as base-layer garments for first responder personnel were tested as part of the new study.

These consist of 100% polypropylene, 100% polyester, modacrylic/rayon/nylon blend, Nomex/spandex blend, merino wool/fire-resistant viscose blend and 100% Zirpro®-treated Merino wool. It must be noted the fabrics were of varying weights, as matching g/m2 fabrics were not commercially available.

The test method involved two techniques to simulate the skin’s exposure to, firstly, a naked flame ignition source and, secondly, an accelerant fuelled threat. The results showed the worst performing fabric was the polypropylene fabric closely followed by the three polyester fabrics.

Skin-images-1.jpgSkin-images-2.jpg

The fabric that performed best overall was the Zirpro®-treated Merino wool (100%) mid-layer fabric, which showed no apparent differences compared to the undamaged control samples in both the naked flame and accelerant tests.

The best-performing base-layer fabric was the double knit of the Merino/fire resistant treated viscose blend, followed by the rib knit of the Merino/fire resistant treated viscose.

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