The hood area, or the area around your neck and ears, is the most vulnerable spot in conventional firefighting PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). In the past, experts considered it the weakest link in a system-level protective ensemble. However, recent innovations have led to state-of-the-art particulate hoods that protect firefighters from absorbing dangerous chemicals into their skin. These hoods prevent carcinogens found in smoke from getting to the skin on the neck and head.
The best firefighter particulate hoods include:
- GORE® GEN2 Particulate Hood
- Innotex Gray Hood 25
- Cobra BarriAire™ Gold Hood
- MaskMate™ Hood with STEDAIR® PREVENT
- H41 Interceptor Hood
We’ll go over the specifics of these hoods later in the article. But before we do that, we need to discuss the qualities that make a great firefighter particulate hood.
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Also read: The 8 Best Watches for Firefighters and The 11 Best Firefighter Personal Tools
Here is a good video that shows the importance of wearing a particulate blocking hood:
What Makes a Great Particulate Hood?
The addition of the Particulate-Blocking option for hoods in the NFPA 1971 Standard: 2018 Edition led manufacturers to offer particulate hoods in various styles and designs, together with better protective features. Fire departments now have better options in terms of providing firefighters with protective gear that offer excellent breathable moisture barriers.
The question is, how can you pick the best firefighter particulate hood? What makes one better than another in the first place?
Every fire department has a different requirement when it comes to their firefighting PPE, but the main criteria remain standard when it comes to particulate hoods. We’ll discuss them below.
This is what makes a particulate hood different from a traditional firefighting hood. In the past, the technology that manufacturers used for particulate hoods was the same as other parts of the ensemble. If a glove, for example, works well against the thermal and physical hazards of a fire-ground operation, the manufacturer applied the same technology for the hood.
The level of protection against particulates and other physical hazards during fire-ground operation should be the top priority. Each part of the PPE has different purposes and should have different properties. As per the NFPA Standard 1971, a particulate hood should have the capability to block at least 90 percent of particulates, ranging from 0.1 to 1.0 microns (µm).
Since the revision of the NFPA 1971, more and more manufacturers have developed better technologies to provide better particulate-blocking properties to firefighters. It’s the industry standard today and should be the first thing you look for when choosing a particulate-blocking hood.
Keeping the gear clean without losing its protective property is another issue that the NFPA 1971: 2018 Edition tackles. In the past, legacy hoods provided less protection as firefighters responded to more emergencies. The constant need to clean the gear often negated the purpose of wearing the gear and was sometimes detrimental to the health and safety of the firefighters.
The previous construction of legacy hoods creates a dilemma for firefighters; either they wear unclean PPE or use a gear that has less protective properties. The hood’s efficiency in blocking particulates shouldn’t degrade as it gets worn. The NFPA Standard states that a particulate-blocking ensemble should withstand at least 20 launderings and two heat cycles without going below 90% in its efficiency to block particulates.
This standard allows firefighters to focus on keeping their gear clean without worrying about the deterioration in its protective capability. Departments, on the other hand, are guaranteed that their investment in the particulate-blocking hoods will provide better value and will last longer without compromising the safety and health of their firefighters.
The NFPA Standard requires that manufacturers provide test results using the flat material tests and have the results documented in detail. These tests should provide all the information that is needed to determine the hood’s protective property and efficiency in blocking particulates.
Aside from the flat material tests, manufacturers should also conduct experiments in a simulation that mimics the environment where firefighters wear the hood. Using FAST (Fluorescent Aerosol Screening Test) is one of the best ways to determine the capacity of particulate hoods to protect the wearer on a system-level during fire-ground operations.
FAST is not part of the requirements in the NFPA Standard, but conducting this test will demonstrate the hood’s performance as a part of an ensemble of gear. It’s important to note that the hood can never provide optimal protection unless a firefighter uses it as a part of his overall set of protective equipment.
Fire departments should also conduct these tests independently before purchasing hoods for their firefighters to ensure that they provide optimal protection. Departments shouldn’t deploy firefighters to a fire-ground operation without testing the particulate-blocking properties of the hood, and without confirming its efficiency as a part of an ensemble.
Protective Design Features
Different particulate hoods come with varying design features that may, or may not, be suitable for the operations that your department responds to. More affordable particulate hoods, for example, only protect certain areas of the head, while more expensive ones offer protection throughout the gear.
Another important factor that a lot of firefighters overlook when buying particulate hoods is its feature that allows visual inspection. Protective equipment works well when brand new, but as it gets old, you need to conduct a visual inspection. It ensures that there are no cuts, holes, or tears that can degrade the protection it provides.
A good particulate hood should include an inspection opening that allows you to turn it inside out without compromising its structural composition and protective property. This feature ensures that you’ll always wear optimal protection on a system-level.
Also, the number of particulate-hoods available in the market can be overwhelming. So you have to familiarize yourself with the benefits of these features to find the best particulate hood. It ensures that you’re getting the optimal protection from your gear, without compromising its durability.
Breathability Over Air Permeability
Air permeability is the property of a fabric that allows better passage of air through to hood. It’s nice to have for your protective equipment, but it shouldn’t be the focus of a manufacturer. A particulate hood that focuses on air permeability is a two-edged sword. It allows more air to flow freely in and out of the gear, together with more particulates that could pose significant risks to your health and safety.
The NFPA 1971: 2018 Edition requires all particulate blocking hoods to maintain a minimum THL (Total Heat Loss). This regulation makes it possible for the gear to be breathable enough without compromising its efficiency to block particulates. Firefighters deserve a comfortable ensemble, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of decreased protection.
Find a Wear Test Program
Particulate-blocking hoods are not cheap; they can cost anywhere from $80 to as much as $150. The addition of hood options in the NFPA 1971: 2018 Edition makes a wear test program even more crucial when choosing a particulate hood. This new standard in PPE could mean that the one you’ve used in the past is no longer up to the standards that the NFPA has set.
Choosing a particulate hood based on the manual that the manufacturers provide is not the right way of choosing one. It would be unwise, as well, to test every particulate hood that is available in the market.
If you want to find the best particulate hood for the specific calls that your department responds to, you can talk to a local dealer and apply for a wear test program. Manufacturers often offer these programs to aid firefighters with their buying decisions and to demonstrate the efficiency of their gear when it comes to blocking the physical hazards of a fire-ground operation.
With enough members in your department, manufacturers may send a few samples that will help you evaluate their product. This option was not available in the past, but due to the number of hoods that are available in the market today, wear trials become crucial to the buying process of different fire departments.
The length of these trials varies based on what dealers are willing to offer. Some have a set of samples that they send to each department for testing, and they have to return it after a few weeks. Other dealers send actual products to departments, and they can keep it in exchange for an evaluation form.
We suggest that you talk to different dealers and ask for a wear trial or samples, so your department can conduct an in-depth assessment and comparison for each particulate hood.
These programs, however, are not applicable for personal purchases. To be eligible, a fire department with a significant number of firefighters should send a request for a trial wear program. Nonetheless, it’s a great way to find the best particulate hoods that you can use for your operations.
How to Get Better Value for Particulate Hoods
Particulate hoods are an integral part of firefighting protective ensemble, but it’s not cheap. These hoods don’t last as much as we want them to, so you have to be sure that you’re getting great value for each purchase.
Here are three things that you can do to get better value for your particulate hoods:
Keep your hood clean
Particulate hoods are your primary protection for your head and neck against heat and other physical hazards. It’s also highly efficient in collecting harmful particulates during a fire-ground operation. So keeping it clean afterward is crucial to maintaining its protective property.
The best way to clean a particulate hood is to use mild laundry detergent and wash it with water that is at least 105 degrees Fahrenheit. When laundering your gear, make sure that you only wash it together with other hoods or other PPE ensembles. Cleaning it with other fabrics can make it flammable, posing a high risk to your safety.
Never dry clean your hood, and don’t use bleach or fabric softeners, because these chemicals can degrade the protective capability of your gear. Lastly, keep it away from direct sunlight, because some of the components in a particulate-blocking hood degrade under UV exposure.
Don’t modify your hood in any way
Particulate hoods go through meticulous and high-standard manufacturing processes. Modifications, repairs, or any form of alteration in its structure may affect its efficiency to block particulates. Most of the after-market accessories can cause small amounts of damage to the fabric, which can pose a serious threat to your health and safety.
Altering, modifying, or repairing particulate hoods also voids the manufacturer’s original warranty. So when it gets damaged, and you need to have it fixed, you’ll have to pay for the services rendered. Might as well get a new one; it’ll be cheaper and hassle-free.
Inspect and Replace
Despite the addition of particulate hoods in the NFPA Standard, it will still get worn out over time. Regular usage will always cause structural damage to the hood, so it’s crucial to conduct routine checks, not only with your hood but with every part of your firefighting PPE.
Visual inspection doesn’t only make your hood more reliable; it also creates better long-term value because you’ll know the weak points in the equipment that you’re using. So make it a point to always check for damages on the hood after washing and drying, to be sure of its structural integrity.
The updates in the NFPA Standard for particulate-blocking hoods have led to an overwhelming number of options that firefighters can choose from. Each manufacturer offers different innovations in terms of the hood design and fabrics that they use to provide better protection.
Here are some of the best manufacturers of particulate hoods that we’ve tested:
1. W. L. GORE & ASSOCIATES
W. L. Gore & Associates developed the GORE® Particulate Hood, while Majestic Fire Apparel manufactures and distributes the gear. It blocks 99.9% of particulates and most physical hazards in a fire-ground operation. It can withstand 100 dry cycles and still be efficient in filtering particulates. GORE® Particulate Hood has two outer knit options; the Ultra C6.2 and Nomex® blend — both offering the same protective property.
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Innotex manufactures particulate hoods that use STEDAIR® PREVENT for the gear’s inner structural composition. The outer knit comes in two options: Innotex Gray 25 which has a THL of 427 and TPP of 22.6. STEDAIR® PREVENT blends with the fabric that Innotex uses, delivering 99% particulate-blocking efficiency as part of a protective ensemble.
This video talks about the H41 Interceptor Hood from FireDex:
Fire-Dex makes the H41 Interceptor Hood that uses two different particulate-blocking technologies. First is the H41 Interceptor Hood with Nomex Nano Flex that offers a high level of particulate-blocking property and good permeability. The other H41 Interceptor Hood has STEDAIR® PREVENT, which provides 99% particulate filtration that can withstand well over 100 washes. Both hoods from Fire-Dex use the same fabric throughout the equipment, protecting 100% of the area that it covers.
4. PGI Inc.
PGI Inc. is the manufacturer of the Cobra BarriAire™ Gold Hood. It’s a particulate hood that uses a fabric with antistatic capabilities and a water-repellent finish. The material that PGI uses for this equipment can block 95% up to 98% of particulates, which, according to PGI, gets more efficient as you launder the hoods. It’s also easier to clean because the fabric dries in about 20 to 30 minutes.
5. Veridian Fire Protective Gear
Veridian Fire Protective Gear is the manufacturer of the Viper Max PBH. It has two particulate-blocking options; Nomex Nano Flex and STEDAIR® PREVENT. The Viper Max PBH covers the specific locations stated in the NFPA Standard — the head and neck area. The remaining parts of the hood create better breathability without compromising its efficiency to block particulates.
6. Honeywell First Responder Products
Honeywell is the manufacturer of MaskMate™ Hood with STEDAIR® PREVENT. It utilizes two layers of fabric with full lining to accommodate binding without compromising elasticity. There are no seams across the top of the head, making it very comfortable to wear. They use STEDAIR® PREVENT as the inner shell, providing 99.99% efficiency in blocking all particulates, even after 100 dry cycles.
Lion is the manufacturer of Red Zone PBH with STEDAIR® PREVENT. It’s a one-size-fits-all hood that focuses on comfort with no extra noise when it rustles over your ears. Lion uses its proprietary viscose for the outer layer, paired with STEDAIR® PREVENT for the inner structure, providing 99% particulate-blocking efficiency.
8. Lakeland Fire
Lakeland Fire is notorious for the PPE that they offer, and are now developing the most advanced particulate hood to date. They laminated STEDAIR® PREVENT throughout the hood to make it a one-layer gear that delivers 99% efficiency in blocking particulates. The outer shell, on the other hand, uses proprietary carbon fiber that offers exceptional heat-blocking characteristics while keeping the gear breathable and with high THL.
Here is another video showing why all firefighters should be wearing particulate blocking hoods:
The addition of the Particulate-Blocking option for hoods has reshaped the industry of firefighting PPE. The challenges and risks that firefighters faced in the past became less of an issue after revising the standards of particulate-blocking hoods. The industry no longer decides what’s best for firefighters, while manufacturers now offer more choices when it comes to their protective ensemble.
Departments know the terrain of emergencies they respond to, so they know the best particulate hood that their firefighters should wear. The NFPA Standard only serves as a guide on what fire departments should buy to ensure that their firefighters have optimal protection during fire-ground operations.
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