I’m a career captain from a large city in Missouri. Recently I started looking at knee injuries in the fire service. Although a portion of the injuries are due to torsional type incident there are a large number of injuries that are due to impact, penetration, and heat transfer through compression. The knee protection offered in turnout gear today ranges from almost nothing to one or two layers of ¼” silicone padded inserts. These padded inserts are better than nothing if your department is willing to spend the extra money for them at the time of purchase. They do not however give any impact or penetration protection. While many may say we do not spend that much time on our knees in a structure fire, I have found that many injuries are occurring at other incident types as well.

I have performed several controlled test with firefighters performing various firefighting operations. What I found was not shocking but brings to light the physiological and physiological stresses of performing firefighting functions. In our test, firefighter performed functions while wearing the issued turnout gear and then again with substantial knee protection. The results showed firefighters wearing the knee protection performed their task faster and with higher efficiency. In many cases the tasks were completed nearly 35% faster. A zero visibility search went from 03:00 to 01:57 just by moving quickly without the concern of knee pain. In addition quality factors were introduced into the tests. Firefighters using knee protection moved with more purpose and a higher level of concentration on the function of the search.

The Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Auburn University performed a study titled “Physiological demand on firefighters crawling during a search exercise”. This is a very interesting study conducted by a PHD. It has scientific and measurable data on what we all know, crawling is hard, crawling is slow, and crawling hurts.

So here is my question to you. Do you feel a higher level of knee protection is required in the fire service? If available would you buy and wear knee protection if it would:

  • Attach to your existing gear
  • Not alter your existing gear
  • Cause no additional donning or turn out time
  • Provide a higher level of comfort and protection
  • Be constructed of NFPA 1975 compliant materials
  • Be light weight and low profile

I have started working on developing knee protection that can accomplish these problems. I have gotten good feedback within my area but I would like viewpoints from beyond my region. I recognize that we are fighting fewer fires today and some are trending towards a more defensive style tactic. Knee protection is not just an issue during aggressive interior operations. Knee injuries occur during defensive fires, extrications, brush fires, and even medical calls. I’d like to get your thoughts on the subject and thanks for taking a look at this.

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While I was still riding or involved with training classes or drills I had problems with my knees because of crawling on the floor during a exercise. I started putting knees pads under my pants before I went to the station because I wouldn't have time to slip them on while getting turnouts on. I also didn't want others to know I had problems with my knees.

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