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Why establish a Firefighting PPE selection, care, and maintenance program?

As the demands and complexities of responding to events have increased, so have the risks to firefighters and other emergency responders. Although the risks to a firefighter can never be eliminated, they can be effectively managed through a PPE Program.

The purpose of personal protective equipment is to provide the user protection from multiple hazards and repeated exposures. For structural fire fighting, personal protective equipment is a system of components and elements comprised to make up an ensemble. Organizations have a responsibility to protect their employees by providing them with a Personal Protective Ensemble that is appropriate for the hazards they are expected to encounter.

Organizations also have a responsibility to train their employees on the proper use of their ensemble and, to establish a program that will reduce the safety and health risks associated with contaminated, damaged or improperly maintained ensemble and ensemble elements. The majority of the failures associated with protective ensembles, are often the result of improper selection, poor maintenance, inadequate care, excessive wear, and improper use from insufficient training.

The goal of an organization is often to establish a Program providing ensembles that are appropriate for the intended use and that can be maintained in a safe and usable condition to meet the intended level of protection.

The objective of the Program is to reduce the safety and health risks associated with the improper selection, poor maintenance, inadequate care, excess wear and improper use of protective ensembles.

Goals and Objectives:

Although most jurisdictions have regulations requiring

organizations to provide and maintain personal protective

equipment for its employees, few provide detailed criteria on

how to comply.

NFPA 1851: Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting, was created to establish requirements for the selection, care, and maintenance of firefighting protective ensembles to reduce health and safety risks associated with improper maintenance, contamination, or damage. Although an organization may not be required to adopt an NFPA standard by law, NFPA 1851 has the advantage of being recognized and accepted as the most technically accurate and current document available regarding the issue of selection, care and maintenance for protective ensembles. It is the only standard of its type in existence.


Initially, instituting an ensemble selection, care and, maintenance Program may appear overwhelming, however this can be managed by bringing the Program on line over an extended period of time. First, it is paramount to recognize the importance and need for a Program. The next step is to create the Program by developing the written standard operating procedures that will become the foundation of the Program. SOPs are the backbone of any Program and document how each Program Part is to be addressed. Without them, no Program can exist. 

Standard Operating Procedures:

By not having a formal Program for the selection, care, and maintenance of personal protective ensembles, organizations may find it challenging to defend themselves from litigation should an injury, illness, or death result from the improper selection, improper use, poor maintenance, and/or inadequate care of protective ensembles.

Although adopting and implementing an NFPA 1851 compliant Program is generally regarded as the best option to address this issue, it is imperative that the authority having jurisdiction adopt and implement some type of formal selection, care, and maintenance Program. 

Potential Legal Impact:

The major benefits of creating and implementing a selection, care, and maintenance Program include:

  • Providing a higher level of protection to users through proper selection

  • Maintaining a higher level of protection through care and maintenance

  • Ability to defend PPE decisions by demonstrating a systematic approach to selection, care and maintenance

  • Potential cost savings with elements not having to be replaced as often

  • Potential increase of service life of elements by identifying minor repairs before they become major repairs

  • Accurate record keeping and data collection

  • Ability to identify trends of use and wear of elements so changes or upgrades in materials can be considered


NFPA 1851 Training

ECMS can provide training for your department personnel who are responsible for ensuring compliance with the NFPA1851 Standard. This training includes helping you establish a care and maintenance program outlined by Chapter 4, as well as Advanced Inspection according to Chapter 6. Our program can be customized to meet your department operating guidelines and safety expectations. Our goal is to help you maintain the safety of your PPE and reduce the overall cost of ownership in the process.

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