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Effects of Fire Fighting Uniform (Modern, Modified Modern, and Traditional) Design Changes on Exercise Duration in New York City Firefighters

Malley, K. S. MA, Lt; Goldstein, A. M. MD; Aldrich, T. K. MD; Kelly, K. J. MD; Weiden, M. MD; Coplan, N. MD; Karwa, M. L. MD; Prezant, D. J. MD

Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine: December 1999 - Volume 41 - Issue 12 - p 1104-1115
Original Articles
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Fire departments have replaced traditional uniforms with modern, more thermal protective gear. Although the new uniforms afford superior burn protection, they may reduce work time. Our purpose was to determine if exercise time was (1) reduced by wearing the modern versus traditional uniform, and (2) increased by a design change to a modified modern uniform (T-shirt and short pants rather than a shirt and long pants under the outer uniform). Male firefighters (n = 23; age 27 to 59) performed a maximum exercise test in gym clothes (maximal oxygen consumption = 46 ± 9 ml/kg/min) and then returned on separate days to exercise using a moderately high intensity, constant work rate treadmill protocol while wearing fire fighting breathing apparatus and each of three uniforms. Firefighters exceeded anaerobic threshold by 1 minute and eventually reached or exceeded maximum heart rate and maximal oxygen consumption. Exercise time in modern (15 ± 3 min) was significantly less than in traditional (18 ± 5 min) uniform. Exercise time in modified modern (17 ± 5 min) was significantly greater than in modern and not significantly different than in traditional uniforms. The rate of change in oxygen consumption and water loss were significantly affected by uniform type, with faster rates in modern compared with modified modern or traditional uniforms. These findings show the impact that design changes have on energy demands and exercise duration.

From the Bureau of Health Services, New York City Fire Department (Lt Malley, Dr Kelly, Dr Weiden, Dr Coplan, Dr Prezant); and the Pulmonary Division, Montefiore Medical Center, Albert Einstein College of Medicine (Dr Goldstein, Dr Aldrich, Dr Karwa, Dr Prezant); Bronx, N.Y.

Address correspondence to: David Prezant, MD, Montefiore Medical Center, Pulmonary Division, Centennial 423, Bronx, NY 10467.

© 1999 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.