Firefighter judgment errors can occur while wearing protective equipment

firefighters wearing ppe

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is necessary for firefighter safety. However, PPE is heavy, bulky, and increases the physiological burden of firefighting. According to a report issued from the U.S. Fire Administration through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have found firefighters can make errors in perception when judging their abilities to navigate obstacles while wearing the bulky protective equipment, and these types of errors could increase the risk for injury on the fireground.

Research takeaways

  • Firefighters misjudged their ability to step over, duck under, or squeeze through obstacles while wearing PPE. In particular, firefighters drastically overestimated their abilities to duck under obstacles — that is, they made contact with obstacles that they thought were passable.
  • Misjudging movement abilities in PPE may lead to contact with objects and poor navigation choices while on the fireground.
  • To reduce these errors in judgment, firefighter training should focus on increasing awareness of this problem and provide firefighters with repeated exposure to challenging obstacles.
  • Increasing awareness of these errors and providing training for navigation over, under and through obstacles while wearing PPE could ultimately lead to a decrease in slips, trips and falls.

Petrucci, M. N., Horn, G. P., Rosengren, K. S., & Hsiao-Wecksler, E. T. (2016). Inaccuracy of Affordance Judgments for Firefighters Wearing Personal Protective Equipment. Ecological Psychology, 28(2), 108-126. doi:10.1080/10407413.2016.1163987