A bittersweet victory was handed to emergeny responders on October 3, 2006 when the International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) sent a brand new Public Safety High Visibility Vest Standard 207 to the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) for approval.
The standard creates a sleeveless vest type garment specially designed for police officers, EMS providers, and firefighters who are on the highway to mitigate an emergency. Unlike previous clothing that was intended primarily for highway construction and maintenance workers, the new 207 standard includes features needed by emergency responders such as a cut out side for police officersâ€™ weapons and EMS belt- carried equipment. There is also an optional feature allowing the identification of police, fire and EMS responders by color on a panel or trim. The Public Safety vest can be sufficiently large to be worn over a firefighting turn out coat, and includes more square inches of retro-reflective material.
The Cumberland Valley Volunteer Fireman™s Association™s (CVVFA) Emergency Responder Safety Institute (ERSI) gathered information from public safety responders prior to presenting the Public Safety Vest concept to the National Traffic Incident Management Coalition (NTIMC), a Washington D.C. based transportation and public safety consortium that advocates for responder safety and safe quick clearance of highway incidents. The CVVFA is a founding member of NTIMC.
In discussions with firefighters, law enforcement, EMS, and towing and recovery personnel, the resounding message was to make the seams and closures in the new garment break-a-way. The reasoning is that should a wearer become hooked on a passing vehicle, the vest would come apart without dragging the emergency responder down the highway. Break-a-way technology exists today and most manufactures offer other ANSI garments with all or some break-a-way features.
Break-a-way feature means that the seams on the garment, specifically the two shoulders, the two sides and the front closure are all fastened with Velcro rather than a sewn seam or fasteners like zippers or buttons. This style garment is referred to as 5 point break-a-way and means that the garment can be pulled apart at five places. A garment with 4 point break-a-way differs only that the front closure is closed with fasteners or a zipper.
When CVVFA and the NTIMC appeared before ISEA™s standards administration, and later the full committee, it was stressed that this critical safety feature ought to be an obligatory design component of the proposed vest standard. A secondary, but important, benefit of mandating full break-a-way ensures that when a purchaser orders a public safety vest the wearer obtains the highest level of safety without having to worry about specifications. ERSIâ€™s concern about specifications stems from its recognition of the general misunderstanding that many public safety agencies have of the existing Class I, II and III ANSI vests currently on the market. Apparently, however, the argument was lost on the ISEA committee that chose to write the standard to include optional, not mandatory, break-a-ways features.
In the spring of 2006 the CVVFA obtained a copy of the draft standard and quickly noticed that break-a-ways were listed as optional and not mandatory. A provision in ISEA™s rules requires that users and others be â€œcanvassedâ€ in order to have the proposed standard sent to ANSI for approval.
The canvass results were tabulated in July. The tally included a sufficient number of objections in favor of mandatory break-a-ways to prevent the process from moving forward. Amazingly, ISEA ignored these comments and simply reissued the exact same standard for a second canvass.
On October 2, 2006, the result of the second canvass was received by ISEA. Apparently a sufficient number of canvass reviewers agreed to change their vote to support the new standard with optional break-a-way features rather than mandatory.
Following internal rules, ISEA asked the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) to review the new standard. This process should take about two or three weeks. A favorable decision is expected which would mean the standard likely will be officially adopted during the month of October 2006.
The CVVFA is taking action on several fronts relative to the new standard. ERSI Director of Training Jack Sullivan and Chief Instructor Ron Moore are developing curriculum changes to the CVVFAâ€™s current highway incident scene safety training offerings. The new information will advocate purchasing and using public safety vests with break-a-way features.
Separately, an Honor Roll of manufactures is under development. In order to qualify, a vest manufacturer must pledge publicly that they will only sell Public Safety Vests that include a minimum of a 4 point break-a-way. Qualified companies would be entitled to mention the CVVFA Emergency Responder Safety Institute Honor Roll in their advertising. Suitable notice is planned at all Responder Safety events and onwww.respondersafety.com.
The CVVFA will also join with our partners in the NTIMC to begin the process of changing the ANSI 207 vest standard to include mandatory break-a-ways as soon as the document goes into a revision cycle. Additionally, conversations are under way with other standard-making bodies that have the capacity of issuing standards that could require break-a-ways in traffic vests.
The CVVFA Emergency Responder Safety Institute strongly urges all public safety personnel to begin purchasing ANSI 207 public safety vests with break-a-way features immediately. High visibility garments are a responderâ€™s first line of defense while operating on the highway. Bulk purchases or specialty orders should include a specifications sheet requiring break-a-ways.