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Knee protection and injuries

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  • Knee protection and injuries

    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, extrication, brush fires, and even medical calls. I’d like to get your thoughts on the subject and thanks for taking a look at this.

  • #2
    I think you may be on to something here. The integrated padding in our globe pants, while not thick enough for a Van Halen type stage slide, is a welcome addition. I will admit to being the guy who will not crawl during a primary search for the sole reason that after bilateral knee surgeries, physical therapy and continued physical maintenance on my hinges, it still hurts to crawl. I have gone so far as to purchase wrestling knee pads so I could make it through a VEIS and confined space search drills for a couple of our multi company training classes.

    An integrated flexible thermal resistant pad system sounds good. It has been my experience though, that a hard shell will do two things to you. First, it will tear the outer garment leaving you exposed and second, it will move on your knee causing friction burns. I am currently recovering from that due to tiling my bathroom.

    Time is also another consideration. You know as well as anybody that nobody is going to take the time to slide knee pads on for an alarm, not when you have to be out the doors in less than a minute (non staffed vollies are exempt).

    Good luck


    • #3
      I’m working with a product design company to refine the design so all input I get will help develop what is wanted the most. You stated that in your experience a hard shell pads has caused holes in the outer layer of the gear. I am curious what caused that. Do you think that with the element of pain removed the act of crawling is done with more force, could it be that with padding there was more usage in the knee area, or did the hard pad on the inside have a degrading effect on the gear? I think I have the friction burn part worked out with the design. In the hours of testing I did with firefighters of different size, age, and experience nobody mentioned it but I will give that further attention. If you don’t mind I’d like to get more feedback from you as the design is more complete. I am a couple months away from having the professionally designed prototype completed but I would like to share it and see what you think. If you would be interested send me an email at [email protected] . Thanks for the feedback.


      • #4
        I spent 20 years of my 34 years riding an engine, which didn't do my knees any good. I actually had an old friend who was a roofer and he gave me a pair of old leather roofers knee pads (thick leather with horsehair). They actually helped a lot. There was a little slippage now and then but over all they helped take some of the pressure off my knees with the extra padding they provided.
        Last edited by FireCapt1951retired; 04-27-2016, 06:34 AM.


        • #5
          I have worn basketball/volleyball style kneepads under my turnouts during training exercises for years. It makes a huge difference for my 50 year old knees. I don't take the time to put them on for a call, but I wouldn't be upset if there was a little more padding in the knees of my pants.


          • #6
            Anyone try the external ridge style pads? Seemed MP or Globe produced some looked like about .75" thick x 1" horizontal padding that covered the knee. These looked like they'd flex well plus give decent comfort? As for typical non-fire service adjuncts. Many of us wore athletic style pads during the fire academy after the first morning of crawling on concrete floors. They weren't much of a solution but in the training environment they saved us a lot of pain. As a carpenter before and part time during this career, I've tried the leather pads roofer/flooring guys use and found they didn't provide enough that I didn't adjust to get off my knees as much as possible. Like Snowball earlier injuries cause me to do just about anything but crawl. I know for certain I caused one lingering knee issue searching in a training building when I put too much weight on my knee on a perforated steel staircase.

            So: Flexible, channel hot water away, can't tear through the shell and soft enough to relieve pain of kneeling on hard surfaces? All while not hampering mobility. No doubt a worthy advancement in my book.


            • #7
              I had some Morning Pride gear with the horizontal padding like you described. It did give pretty good cushion when it was new but flattened as it aged. I would like to share my design with anyone who is interested in giving input on this. I am still a couple months from having a product that I want to put out. What I am testing with now is still pretty rough with me having created the pads with what I had available. PLEASE, if you are interested send me an email and I will include you in the review of the design process. If nothing else it may be interesting to watch how this thing develops. I’ll be making some videos and demonstrations as soon as I get a “looks like” model created. Email me at [email protected] . Thanks!


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