According to a notice from the Navy’s Fleet Forces Command the Navy Working Uniform is not fire resistant.
After a test was conducted Nov. 15, the Navy said the uniform “will burn robustly until completely consumed.”
The Navy removed its requirement in 1996 that uniforms had to be flame retardant, and have been providing special uniforms to engine room, flight-related, firefighters and damage control personnel since then. But this means other personnel working in spaces with fuel lines, oil, steam, heat and tons of combustibles overhead, underneath, and in nearby passageways are ready to be robustly barbecued.
The Navy said its personnel were aware of the uniforms’ lack of protection. The NWU was introduced into the service in January 2009.
For reporters covering the Navy, it’s time to get out to the commands and ask them who isn’t and how sailors are protected from being consumed while wearing the NWU.
Here’s is the Navy’s notice:
R 120737Z DEC 12
FM COMUSFLTFORCOM NORFOLK VA
TO COMPACFLT PEARL HARBOR HI
INFO CNO WASHINGTON DC
COMUSFLTFORCOM NORFOLK VA
CHINFO WASHINGTON DC
UNCLAS PERSONAL FOR COMMANDERS, COMMANDING OFFICERS, OFFICERS IN CHARGE AND COMMAND MASTER CHIEFS SECINFO/-/-// MSGID/GENADMIN,USMTF,2012/COMUSFLTFORCOM NORFOLK VA// SUBJ/NAVY WORKING UNIFORM// REF/A/MSGID:MEMO/VCNO/10MAY1996// GENTEXT/REMARKS/1. IN 1996, NAVY LEADERSHIP REMOVED FLAME RESISTANT REQUIREMENTS FROM NAVY WORKING UNIFORMS (NWU).
CONSISTENT WITH THIS DECISION, COMMANDS HAVE SINCE THAT TIME BEEN REQUIRED TO PURCHASE FLAME RESISTANT ORGANIZATIONAL CLOTHING FOR SAILOR USE. THERE HAS BEEN NO CHANGE IN THIS REQUIREMENT. THEREFORE, THE NWU TYPE I WAS APPROPRIATELY DESIGNED WITHOUT FLAME RESISTANT QUALITIES.
2. ON 15 OCTOBER 2012, AN IMPROMPTU TEST CONDUCTED BY THE NAVY CLOTHING TEXTILE RESEARCH FACILITY IN NATICK, MA REINFORCED THE FACT THAT THE NWU TYPE I IS NOT FLAME RESISTANT AND FURTHER FOUND THAT WHEN SUBJECTED TO FLAME IT WILL BURN ROBUSTLY UNTIL COMPLETELY CONSUMED.
3. AS THE CNO’S EXECUTIVE AGENT FOR DAMAGE CONTROL MODERNIZATION AND IMPROVEMENT, I NEED YOU TO ENSURE THE
A. SAILORS ARE AWARE THAT TYPE I NWU’S LACK THIS FLAME RESISTANT QUALITY.
B. SAILORS HAVE BEEN PROPERLY ISSUED FLAME RESISTANT ORGANIZATIONAL CLOTHING IN KEEPING WITH DUTIES ASSIGNED:
E.G., ENGINE ROOM PERSONNEL, PERSONNEL INVOLVED IN FLIGHT RELATED DUTIES, DAMAGE CONTROL PERSONNEL, FIRE FIGHTERS, WELDING, COMBAT MISSIONS SUBJECT TO IMPROVISED EXPLOSIVE DEVISES (IED) ATTACKS, ETC.).
4. INFORMED BY THIS IMPROMPTU TEST AND IN COORDINATION WITH THE UNIFORM BOARD, ADM HANEY AND I WILL CONTINUE TO REVIEW THE REQUIREMENTS FOR — AND FLAME RESISTANT QUALITIES OF — WORKING UNIFORMS, INCLUDING THE TYPE I NWUS. WE WILL EXPLORE LONG-TERM SOLUTIONS THAT AFFORD OUR SAILORS THE RIGHT PROTECTIVE CLOTHING, ALIGNED WITH THE TASKS THEY ARE REQUIRED TO PERFORM IN VARIOUS OPERATING ENVIRONMENTS.
5. ADM BILL GORTNEY SENDS.//
UPDATE (Jan. 10, 2013)
The Navy release a video showing the test done on the uniform cloth.
The first strip of cloth is a Marine uniform, the second is the NWU. The Navy’s report stated “If this sticky molten material came in contact with skin, it would contribute to increased burn injury.”
Update: Aug. 31, 2013
U.S. Fleet Forces (USFF) and U.S. Pacific Fleet (PACFLT) will distribute flame-resistant coveralls to the shipboard sailors beginning early next year.
The two fleet commanders decided to approve a Flame Resistant Variant (FRV) coverall to ensure the safety of all shipboard sailors after reviewing the findings of the Organizational Clothing Working Group.
“We made the decision to supply flame-resistant coveralls to all Sailors assigned to ships as an added safety precaution,” said Adm. Bill Gortney, commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command. “Sailors at sea operate in an environment with inherent risks. We are always looking for ways to mitigate those risks.”
The FRV coverall will combine the existing blue utility coverall design with the flame-resistant fabric of the repair locker coverall.
In January, the Organizational Clothing Working Group began reviewing all the clothing requirements and flame resistant qualities of fleet organizational clothing being worn at sea – on ships, submarines and in expeditionary units.
“We reviewed all fire-related mishap reports and major ship conflagrations over the past 30 years. We looked at personnel injuries sustained as a result of explosive blast, electric arc flash, flame and smoke,” said Capt. Bruce Brosch, team lead for the Organizational Clothing Working Group. “We found the highest risk of severe injury from flame would be from a major conflagration – a fire or explosion large enough to go beyond the control of repair parties and threaten ship survival. The Navy has averaged one to two major conflagrations per year over the past thirty years.”
Flame resistant organizational clothing had previously been limited to sailors working in engineering departments, on flight decks and in other high-risk areas, but the working group ultimately decided every Sailor afloat should be outfitted with the additional protection.
The bottom line was simple. Any sailor at sea could be on the end of a hose fighting a fire with little or no notice.
The Navy will initially issue two pairs of FRV coveralls to each Sailor serving on board surface ships and aircraft carriers. Type commanders will prioritize the distribution.
The coverall is expected to maintain performance properties, durability and appearance for typical deployments of six to nine months, with an optimal wear life of 18-24 months. Like other organizational clothing, the FRV coveralls will be replaced by each ship over time based on normal wear and tear.
Materials that make the coveralls flame-resistant are incorporated into the fabric fibers. Wear life is dependent on many factors, including wear and cleaning frequency, cleaning method and environmental exposure.
Research by the Organizational Clothing Working Group revealed numerous different organizational clothing styles and types being used throughout the fleet. In order to standardize fleet coverall usage, a longer-term solution is also being researched. The goal is to eventually combine the flame-resistant properties of the existing engineering/damage control coveralls with the arc flash protection of the existing electrical coverall and submarine low-lint specifications. The new coverall design will be modeled after the existing poly-cotton utility coverall issued in the sea-bag.
The Navy is using available fleet funding to pay for this organizational clothing. Currently, the estimated per-unit cost for the FRV coverall is $50.24. The cost to research and issue the new FRV coverall is approximately $12 million.
The Organizational Clothing Working Group findings were passed to a second group, the Shipboard Clothing Working Group, which is tasked to determine the requirements for all at-sea clothing. Findings from the Shipboard Clothing Working Group are expected later this year.