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Ph.D. Students Win Awards for Research at University of Miami National Firefighter Symposium

Dr. Bryan Ormond and two students at symposium

Doctoral candidate Arash Kasebi and doctoral student Mark Gaskill, both pursuing a degree in fiber and polymer science, won the “Best Presentation Award,” for their posters at University of Miami’s National Firefighter Symposium. Kasebi and Gaskill placed first and third respectively. Nine graduate students and two undergraduate students from the Wilson College of Textiles also attended the event.

Kasebi researched how effectively firefighter hoods filter contaminants after being washed and worn in the lab after six months of use by firefighters in the field.

He discovered that the seam portions of hoods containing the chemical polytetrafluoroethylene have lower filtration efficiency rates after repeated use and cleaning when compared to hoods composed of nonwoven filtration media. He believes the lower efficiency comes from abrasion due to laundering and the materials of the hood being repeatedly stretched over time from firefighters taking them off and putting them on aggressively.

Kasebi also learned that the method of removing hoods can influence how much soot and smoke from the firegrounds makes its way to the skin. 

“So we found that if you take the hood off by removing it from the inside of the hood, the soiled hood would stay attached to the mask and minimize contamination on the head and neck,” Kasebi says.

Gaskill focused on testing an alternative method to measure the filtration efficiency of protective gear.

“This specific test was done within an environmental chamber where we can control the temperature, humidity and other conditions,” Gaskill says. “We had a mannequin within the environmental chamber, and we increased the level of background aerosols to act as a particulate, allowing us to measure the filtration efficiency. ”

The existing method to test the filtration of protective suits is to have a test subject wear them while doing exercises in a wind tunnel with fluorescing particulates being blown at them. After the testing period, the test subject will take off the suit and be exposed to ultraviolet light, where scientists can see where contaminants have gone through the suit on the person’s body.

“One of the big problems is it’s a very large particle that they use, it’s like 2.5 microns in diameter, and we’d like to be able to investigate particle sizes that are typically within the sub-micron range of 0.3 to 0.5 microns,” Gaskill says. “Additionally, the fit and form is a big advantage. If we can standardize this with a mannequin, we can get a little bit more baseline results with a consistent fit.”

From the investigation, Gaskill also discovered that suits with better-taped seams and adhesive closures performed better against filtering particulates than unsealed seams and plain zipper closures. 

Kasebi and Gaskill are very thankful to have placed highly in the symposium, and they have learned a lot from attending the event.

“I liked seeing the enthusiasm between the scientific community and the fire service community and how willing everyone was to grow and listen to each other about how they can improve the well-being of firefighters,” Kasebi says. 

“I am truly very thankful that I could go; there were a lot of not just firefighters, but also people from the industry who test, sell and manufacture garments,” Gaskill says. “I got to network with a lot of those individuals, and that experience is going to provide perspective to my research.”