Research Focus: Firefighter Health and Hazard Mitigation

This study addresses critical aspects of firefighter health, focusing on:

  1. Mechanisms: Investigating contamination mechanisms, effective decontamination, and prevention strategies.

  2. Chemical Characterization: Examining smoke chemicals, including PFAS, and their impact on PPE contamination.

  3. Decontamination Effectiveness: Assessing the effectiveness of decontamination protocols to minimize health risks.

  4. PPE Interaction and Health Effects: Understanding how contaminants interact with PPE systems and their effects on firefighter safety and health.

  5. New Technologies: Exploring innovative technologies for improved understanding and prevention of hazardous exposures.

  6. Applications and Control Measures: Studying practical applications and control measures to safeguard firefighters from long-term health risks.


Research Presentation at the 2023 ITAA Conference

Date: November 9, 2023 

Bahar Hashemian Esfahani, a third-year Ph.D. student in Apparel, Merchandising, and Design at Iowa State University, under the support and mentorship of Dr. Song and Dr. Rui Li, presented her groundbreaking research on "Evaluating Radiant Heat Resistance for Firefighters' Hood Materials" at the 2023 International Textile and Apparel Association (ITAA) conference in Baltimore, Maryland. 

Bahar's research investigated the effects of sweating and moisture absorption on burn injuries in firefighter hood materials, employing a specially designed Sweat Simulation RPP tester. The results revealed that moisture content and active sweating reduced radiant heat protection compared to dry conditions. Increasing moisture content from 40% to 80% led to a significant rise in heat transfer in both materials, resulting in diminished protection. Surprisingly, increased active sweating from 5g to 10g resulted in decreased heat transfer and enhanced protection for firefighters. This research marks a significant step toward developing improved firefighter hoods, ensuring enhanced protection and comfort.

Congratulations to Bahar for her impactful presentation and dedication to advancing in-depth studies on improving firefighter hoods for enhanced comfort and protection!


AESHM warmly welcomed the Ames Quilt Guild and ISU Block Builders to Iowa State University on Friday, the 13th, offering an engaging and informative tour of our innovative work and dynamic workspaces. The day commenced with a presentation by Dr. Linda Niehm, providing insights into the department's remarkable growth. Subsequently, the group delved into the intricacies of current textile research led by Dr. Chunhui Xiang and Dr. Rui Li. A delightful meal in the Tea Room provided the perfect setting to digest the newfound knowledge.

Post-lunch activities included an extensive tour of three labs: the DATs Lab, Comfort Lab, and Hazards Lab. Participants witnessed the diverse array of tools and equipment available at AESHM, from industrial sewing machines for hands-on learning to hazard simulation capabilities and comfort-testing apparatuses like thermal manikins.

The tour culminated in two distinct experiences, with some members venturing to the renowned ISU Creamery while others concluded their visit at the Student Innovation Center. Here, attendees could explore the meticulously designed workshops and spaces tailored to foster student success in academic and personal endeavors. Notably, the visit showcased two student-run AESHM initiatives, the Sparks Café and Innovate 1858, serving as vibrant hubs for creative innovation and collaboration.

Seed Grant Awarded

June 20, 2023

Dr. Mengying Zhang, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Apparel, Events, and Hospitality Management, mentored by Dr. Guowen Song, has been awarded the 2023 Postdoctoral Seed Grant Award from Iowa State University. These grants provide postdoctoral scholars research funding in the role of a principal investigator while giving them an opportunity to develop independent research.

Dr. Zhang's research project focuses on developing an automatic hand anthropometric measurement tool using artificial intelligence (AI). This AI-based approach aims to improve the accuracy of hand measurements by reducing the potential for human error and decreasing the time and effort typically required for data collection. The tool will help compile detailed hand size data across various fields, supporting research that leads to better-fitting and more ergonomic gloves, tools, and equipment, enhancing occupational safety and work efficiency. The techniques developed could also be adapted for measuring other body parts, improving the overall fit and performance of personal protective equipment.

Congratulations to Dr. Zhang on her award and the promising work ahead.

CDC Grant Awarded

Each year,  thousands of workers in the farming, fishing, and forestry sectors suffer hand injuries and illnesses, causing significant healthcare costs and loss of productivity. Fishery workers are often exposed to cold temperatures, high wind velocities, and wet weather while handling cold/frozen equipment/objects. This can cause blood vessels to constrict, reducing blood flow to extremities and decreasing hand dexterity and tactility, increasing the risks of traumatic hand injuries and exacerbating musculoskeletal disorders. However, the underlying mechanisms and fundamental parameters that affect blood circulation and skin temperature of a hand holding a fishing tool while wearing a protective glove and being exposed to extremely cold and wet conditions are still largely unknown. This knowledge gap and absence of relevant industry standards have forced fishery workers to use gloves designed for other purposes and occupations, usually where the focus is purely mechanical protection (tears, cuts, punctures, etc.) while neglecting thermoregulatory aspects. These gloves are inadequate for fishery work due to poor thermal and moisture management,  causing thermal discomfort and reduced dexterity and grip, thereby contributing to a hand injury in the worst-case scenario.

This project aims to reduce hand injuries in the fishing industry by establishing a framework to provide scientific directions for the development of standards, regulations, evaluation methods, and selection guidance of existing and next-generation protective gloves through an interdisciplinary exploration-examination-prediction approach. We will develop and validate a 3D multi-segment hand thermoregulation model capable of simulating the thermophysiological response of fishery workers exposed to cold and wet conditions, repetitive motion, and fast-paced hand activity. The expected results will elucidate how ambient conditions, gloves, and tool gripping interact to affect blood flow and skin temperature in each hand segment, thus providing new insights for the design and development of effective fishing gloves that consider hand thermal physiology and optimize hand function while accounting for the particular usage environment and fishing tasks. 

This project has three specific aims: 

  1. Market and usage experience analysis and performance evaluation of existing protective gloves,
  2. Developing a 3D multi-segment hand-specific thermoregulation model for fishery workers, and
  3. Using model simulations to investigate the impacts of glove material properties, environmental factors, and hand posture (fishing activities) on the thermophysiological response of the hand. The proposed work is innovative because it departs from the status quo by employing a synergistic and convergent approach to develop and evaluate hand protective gear that will lead to new designs and materials that account for the human thermophysiological response and ergonomic factors to mitigate the risk of hand injuries. Finally, the expected outcomes have significant potential to guide new material development and apply functional and ergonomic designs, and generate new evaluation standards and usage guidance for gloves to achieve balanced protection, comfort, and performance.


Iowa Board of Regents Visit

Written by Billie Flaming

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Last week our team hosted Board of Regents Member JC Risewick in a lab tour of our facilities. Every year, members of the Board of Regents meet with faculty to gain a better appreciation of the various roles faculty have at Iowa State University and establish connections with faculty. This also allowed the LABS to showcase the programs, research, and notable activities present at the university.

Regent Risewick was able to tour two different labs and have a conversation with Dr. Song and other team members about our work researching personal protective technology and equipment, as well as our plans for the future. The next generation of PPT is just ahead, and we're looking forward to sharing it and making the world a safer, more prepared place for workers across industries.

Internationally Distinguished Speaker

Written by Billie Flaming

The third International Conference on Functional Textiles and Clothing took place in New Delhi, India February 2023, and NexGenPPE's Dr. Guowen Song was honored as a distinguished speaker for the event. The only speaker based in either of the Americas, Dr. Song joins leaders from across the globe as they drive developments in the field of textile materials as well as the apparel production process, bringing the next generation of PPE ever closer to the present.

NexGenPPE at the FIERO Symposium

Written by Billie Flaming


Firefighters' capacity to do their job well is deeply related to their PPE and how safe they are when entering dangerous environments. The practices around contamination and decontamination and protective glove fit are the center of NexGenPPE's funded grants. Attending the FIERO 2023 Conference allowed our team to discuss and learn from fire service members directly about these issues.

The Fire Industry Education Resource Organization had many presenters, and our own Dr. Rui Li presented two different sessions to firefighters and members in the industry. He introduced the basis of NexGenPPE's research and plans for the future and our continued relationships with FEMA, NIOSH, and fire departments around the country. His presentations were well received, and the team was able to connect further with the conference attendees at the NexGenPPE exhibitor's booth.

The exhibitor's booth gave our team the chance to introduce our research and also father data. Bringing along our handheld 3D scanner, we were able to get three-dimensional scans of firefighter's hands, valuable pieces of data to have as our glove fit project moves forward. Postdoctoral researchers Mengying Zhang, and Fan Zhou and Ph.D. students Bahar Hashemian Esfahani, Farhad Aghasi, Karthika Suresh Kumar, and Yulin Wu, all attended the conference and took the time to connect with fire service members and gather high-quality hand scans.

The connections we made, and things we learned at the FIERO Symposium will have a strong impact as we move forward with our research and will keep the firefighters, the end users and beneficiaries of this research, as the foundation of why we continue to learn and better this field of study.


Startup Factory

The NexGenPPE team recently completed a semester of study and learning as a part of Startup Factory, graduating with the rest of Cohort XII. The team gained skills in business management and valuable insights they will carry forward in their continued research and collaborations with industry leaders and collaborators.

The NexGenPPE team is accepting proposals for their yearly seed grant of $10,000. The last recipient of the seed grant was Dr. Rachel Eike, whose work on smart socks was impressive and valuable for filling knowledge gaps in the PPE area. More than one proposal can be submitted.

The deadline is 5:00 pm on Tuesday, December 20, 2022.

Submit Now!

Our goal is to secure and improve the quality of life through research that promotes an understanding of disaster risk exposure, sensitivity to hazards created by extreme weather conditions, and the adaptive capacity of the PPE.

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NexGenPPE Takes Next Steps in Las Vegas

Written by Billie Flaming


This October, the NexGenPPE team attended the American Chemical Society's Western Regional meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada. Several team members presented at the conference and attended the various panels, growing their connections and understanding of this important pillar of science in the field of PPE.

Along with attending the conference, the team also visited ECMS, a Verified Independent Service Provider (ISP) who cleans, inspects, and repairs firefighter turn-out gear in accordance with NFPA 1851, the guiding standards that direct the care of firefighter's PPE. The team was given a tour of the facilities and was able to ask questions about the cleaning process as it currently works within the ECMS system. The lessons learned by our team are detailed below.


1. The fire departments are the ones who decide when to send contaminated PPE in for cleaning. As such, there are few similarities between different firehouses in the frequency of cleaning and repairs.

2. The moisture barrier is washed with the thermal liner to maintain the integrity of the garment's shape.

3. ECMS uses conventional wet cleaning to balance cost, efficiency, and personal training.

4. An experienced worker determines the specific cleaning program for each gear set according to their assessment of the PPE's contamination level.

5. There is a concern for the ECMS team about the working environment's exposure to chemicals, detergents, and harmful particles from the PPE.

6. PPE cleaning is a heavy-labor business relying on wet cleaning methods; new clean techniques such as ultra-sonication or liquid CO2 are not widely accepted due to the cost and time-consuming nature of the techniques.

7. Currently verification method from NFPA 1851 can support the cleaning efficiency for a limited representative level. It can also provide contaminant removal based on data. However, physical methods to prepare contaminated samples are limited by smoke-lacking simulation and the selection of representative chemicals.

8. ECMS passes the NFPA 1851 for inspection, cleaning, drying, and repair functions. They not only return clean PPE to different fire departments but also know about PPE maintenance and contamination to increase the understanding of danger within a smoky fire situation.


It was valuable for the NexGenPPE team to see first-hand the methods and challenges currently facing the people who live with the borders drawn by the NFPA 1851 standard. As our team looks to the future and next generations of standards, it is important to keep in mind the fire safety personnel who will be wearing the PPE and the safety of the professionals tasked with its cleaning and repair.

FEMA Grant Awarded

The NexGenPPE team was awarded a $1.57 million grant by FEMA to continue their research in the decontamination of firefighter gear and PPE. The project explores how to properly clean gear contaminated at fire scenes by smoke and other chemicals. Often this equipment holds onto hazardous contaminants despite washing and standard laundering, and the long-term exposure results in firefighters contracting cancers at a greatly elevated rate.

This research is done with the collaboration of several faculty, staff, and students in ISU's AESHM, Engineering, Kinesiology, and other departments. Several firehouses across the United States have worked with the Iowa State team, as this project will have a powerful impact on the health and livelihood of firefighters as they continue to do their important work for society.

Frontiers Special Issue

September 2, 2022

Dr. Guowen Song is taking part as a key editor for an upcoming special collection for Frontiers in Materials, entitled “Challenges and Emerging Issues on Firefighter’s Toxic Chemical Exposure: Smoke Chemicals, Contaminated PPE, and Off-gassing”.

Toxic chemicals, either from fire ground combustion, contaminated PPE, or off-gassing from PPE material and chemical finishing, have become the leading concern for the long-term health of firefighters. Exposure to fine smoke particles and toxic chemicals released from fire scenes can result in cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other pathological diseases, and minimizing this exposure has become a health priority for the firefighter. Firefighters face exposure to smoke at fire grounds and contaminants in fire stations, vehicles, and even their homes because of resuspended fine particles or released volatile chemicals from contaminated PPE, and our work will not only investigate this but also work to develop PPE that does not have these hazards built into the protective gear.

If you want to learn more about the collection, you may do so here: https://www.frontiersin.org/research-topics/39016/

ISU Related

Seed Grant Awarded

June 21, 2022

Dr. Ankit Joshi, a member of NexGenPPE's multidisciplinary team, is the recipient of the 2022 Postdoctoral Seed Grant Award. Congratulations, Dr. Joshi!

The aim of Dr. Joshi's research project is to develop the 3D multi-segment hand posture thermoregulation (3D-MHPT) model. The developed 3D-MHPT model will provide innovative pathways for designing and development of Next Generation (NexGen) personal protective equipment (PPE). PPE, such as gloves play a critical role in protection against exposure to extreme and hazardous environments and health issues related to it. For this specific project, we are focused on hand protection because hands are extremely vulnerable to cold weather injuries (CWI) and hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) due to the nature of their anatomical geometry, anthropometry, and thermal physiology. One of the key components of 3D-MHPT model development is validating it through lab experiments and human trials.

Best wishes to Dr. Joshi's project and innovative work.


PhD Candidate

December 14, 2021

Yulin Wu is a PhD candidate of Iowa State's AESHM department, with research interests focused on the characterization of combustion emissions as well as the development of a contamination simulator. His current experiments involve utilizing a cone calorimeter and sampling contaminants with chemical analysis techniques.

Yulin intends to develop his preliminary work on combustion emissions through a contamination simulator. This simulator will be very helpful in estimating the effects of different PPE designs and decontamination methods on measure of protective performance.

Congratulations, Yulin!


Iowa Public Radio Spotlight

November 25, 2021

Dr. Guowen Song leads a team to redesign personal protective equipment. He says the pandemic has shed light on the need for PPE to be more comfortable, reusable, and safer.

Health Care workers

Grant for improving PPE for health care workers

November 3, 2021

The team, led by Guowen Song, a professor and the Noma Scott Lloyd Chair in Textiles and Clothing at Iowa State University, received a $1.8 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to support the work. Song says the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed weaknesses in current PPE systems, which is why the team will focus on developing biological self-decontaminating fabrics to protect against live pathogens.


PPE Books Published

Our team was involved in the recent publications of three books, each covering a different aspect of PPE, including comfort, thermal protection, and the gear and equipment used to protect firefighters.

This collection shows the current state of PPE as well as tackling the knowledge gap facing this industry.

Industry Related

NFPA Research Foundation Seminar

February 17, 2022

Dr. Bryan Ormond and Dr. Arjunsing Girase from North Carolina State University presented a seminar on "Enhanced PPE Cleaning to Reduce Firefighter Exposure to Carcinogens"

Oct 30, 2018

Studies have shown that firefighter turnout gear and PPE that gets coated with toxic agents from the fireground can continue to transfer and off-gas contaminants long after the incident has ended. This article follows firefighter gear from contamination, through doffing, transport and cleaning to identify potential areas for exposure in the gear contamination cycle.

Mar 7, 2018

Potential NFPA revisions propose more frequent cleaning of any firefighter gear worn at an active fire

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