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Los Angeles Building Fire & Flame Retardant Textiles

May 26, 2020

Jennifer Woodson is a textile development expert who maintains a blog on sustainability & textiles

Flame-resistant materials from companies like DuPont and Teijin allow firefighters protection while battling a blaze!

Last week, two building fires in Los Angeles made headlines. The fire at a textile warehouse fortunately did not result in any injuries. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the fire on May 18 in downtown LA, where 12 firefighters were injured as they were engulfed in flames as they exited the building (over 230 firefighters worked to put out the blaze). Although there are varying degrees of injuries for the firefighters, all are expected to survive. Surviving a fire, and the ability to enter a burning building in the safest manner possible, is in part due to flame resistant materials. 

A flame-resistant material is one that is inherently unaffected by heat and fire-- the fiber and subsequent textile will resist catching fire. It should be noted that 'flame-resistant' differs from 'flame-retardant', in that flame-retardant generally refers to a topical treatment applied to a textile that will eventually wash off. Two of the most common flame-resistant materials utilized in firefighter uniforms are Nomex® and Kevlar®; both are branded materials made by Dupont. Nomex® and Kevlar® are synthetic materials that are made from a polymer that is similar to nylon (Nomex is a meta-aramid, Kevlar is a para-aramid). Both materials offer superior thermal resistance when compared to many traditional textiles that will melt or burn in a matter of seconds. 

As noted by Dupont in the Nomex® fiber technical guide, "when exposed to flame at room temperature in a normal air environment, Nomex® will not continue to burn when the flame is removed . At temperatures above approximately 800°F (427°C), Nomex® carbonizes and forms a tough char." (1) There are several types of Nomex® materials available, therefore knowing and understanding the end-use of the material is of the utmost importance. 

Nomex yarn cross-section has an oval or 'dogbone' shape. (1) 

Dupont's Nomex® and Kevlar® are not the only flame-resistant materials available. Japan-based chemical company, Teijin, has branded it's version of a flame-resistant material, Teijinconex® which offers similar flame-resistance. 

Flame-resistant materials provide firefighters, and other individuals who risk being burned by flame, a level of protection that can save their life and reduce injury. Without these protective materials, firefighters like those in the recent downtown LA fire, could be injured or killed in the line of duty.