Plastics protect those who protect us. Firefighters and police officers risk their lives to save others. They need to be protected from the daily dangers of the job. Fire-retardant clothing, breathing equipment, helmets, and bullet-proof vests keep them safe – and plastics make them work.
While beating back the flames at the scene of a fire or trying to rescue those trapped inside a burning building, firefighters have an unexpected ally protecting them from harm – plastics. Thermoplastic helmets and heat-and-flame-resistant gear protect them from burns and smoke inhalation. Their outer garments are made from poly-metaphenylene diamine plastic, also known as Nomex, which is heat-and-flame-resistant and can withstand temperatures well over 350 degrees Celsius.
To prevent smoke inhalation and exposure to dangerous chemicals produced by a fire, firefighters use a Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA). Plastics are critical to SCBA equipment. The face masks, hoses, casings, and some tubing in SCBA are all made of plastics.
Plastics are also used to line the rubber hoses for added strength so that the hoses can handle more water pressure. The nozzles, handles and jackets of the hose are often made of plastics. Even water tanks on fire trucks are made from Polypropylene which won't rust so the water flows perfectly all of the time.
Plastics and Police
The use of plastics in bulletproof vests is one of the best examples demonstrating the versatility and adaptability of plastics. Bulletproof vests are made with tightly woven plastic fibres – Kevlar®. As a bullet hits the vest, the bullet is caught in a "web" of very strong fibres which absorb and disperse the impact energy. The plastic essentially stretches to absorb the impact catching the bullet.
Cut-resistant apparel using similar plastics technology, has strong potential to protect public safety officials like prison guards who work in dangerous environments.
In recent years, police departments have taken to using ‘flex cuffs’ – plastic strips – in place of the traditional metal handcuffs. The lighter, flexible material enables officers to carry more than one set of cuffs at a time. The plastic cuffs are also easier to adjust to different wrist sizes.