U.S. Fleet Forces Command (USFF) showcased the new flame-resistant variant (FRV) coveralls to senior enlisted leadership onboard Naval Station (NAVSTA) Norfolk, Nov. 1.
The FRVs are said to be a critical first step in improving the level of protection from flame and flash fire hazards associated with shipboard operations, as well as ensuring shipboard environments are safe.
Although the likelihood of a major shipboard conflagration is low, if it does happen, the consequences could be severe or fatal. For the FRV, the Navy’s overall objective is to provide maximum protection to cover all possible contingencies and scenarios.
Earlier this year Adm. Bill Gortney, USFF commander, and Adm. Cecil D. Haney, then commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet approved the development and issue of FRV coveralls for all Sailors assigned to ships as an added safety precaution due to the inherent risks Sailors at sea can experience.
“Safety of our Sailors was the driving force behind the development of the FRV coverall,” said Fleet Master Chief (AW/SW/IDW) Chuck Clarke, USFF.
According to new wear instructions, the FRV will not be used in place of organizational clothing mandated for specific operational environments, such as flight decks or while performing work on electrical systems that require arc-flash protection.
“It is intended to be the midterm solution while we continue researching an all-purpose coverall incorporating three important characteristics: flame-resistant, arc-flash resistant and low-lint,” said Clarke. “Once developed, this will allow possible elimination of several other types of organizational clothing, streamlining and standardizing what’s needed at sea.”
The FRV coveralls were extensively tested by the Navy Clothing and Textile Research Facility (NCTRF), a government-owned and operated laboratory located in Natick, Mass., and passed all flame and flash fire testing requirements in various conditions: new, after 25 washes, and after 50 washes. According to NCTRF, the flame-resistance properties of the FRV did not degrade with wear or laundering. All coveralls were tested with a 100 percent cotton t-shirt and brief underneath, pinned on metal collar insignia, leather nametag with Velcro backing and a web belt with clip. While underway, chiefs and officers will wear a khaki, cotton web belt. Command ball caps are authorized for wear; and covers, footwear, outerwear and undershirts will be the same for the FRV as currently authorized for the utility coverall.
Each FRV, which mirrors the design of the existing blue utility coverall, will be constructed from 100 percent cotton, flame-retardant treated fabric currently used in the repair locker coverall. There are more than 50 different sizes available for the FRV, but because of the nature cotton fabric, some shrinkage (approximately three to six percent) will occur during laundering. Sailors may require one size larger at initial issue. It is also anticipated that some color fading will occur over time.
Like other organizational clothing, the FRVs will be replaced by each ship over time based on normal wear and tear. The optimal wear life is estimated at 18-24 months, however, the wear life could potentially be less from heavy use. FRVs are ordered by units from the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA). Should the FRV become soiled, torn or prematurely worn, Sailors should turn in the unserviceable FRV to be issued a new set.
Initial fleet supplies, approximately 230,000 coveralls, will be subsidized by already available fleet funding (no out-of-pocket expenses to Sailors). Fleet Sailors who are scheduled to deploy in early 2014, and Sailors assigned to forward deployed naval forces, will receive new FRV before the end of the year. All fleet surface Sailors will be issued two sets of FRVs by September 2014.
The average per-unit procurement cost for an FRV coverall is estimated at $50.24. The Navy has spent approximately $40,000 in fielding the new FRV, and will cost the Navy $11.5 million to procure the initial issue and distribute it among the fleet. The total cost to field and issue the new FRVs is approximately $12 million.
“Our seabag today contains no flame-resistant items in it,” explained Capt. Frank W. Futcher, N41 Supply Ops/Fleet Services, USFF, noting that existing utility coveralls, made with a 65 percent polyester fabric, and the Navy Working Uniform (NWU) type I, made with a 50/50 nylon-cotton blend fabric, are not flame-resistant and will not self-extinguish. Futcher said commands should be vigilant of what is worn under or over the FRV, but said the existing foul weather jacket and green flyer’s jacket used afloat are authorized cold weather garments that are designed to be flame-resistant. “[The seabag] does have a few wool items in it, a peacoat and the optional wool sweater you can wear shipboard, but neither of those wool items are flame-resistant. Wool is a natural fiber, and does contain its own moisture and will self-extinguish, but when exposed to flame, it too will burn.”
The FRVs are said to provide the same protection as the current engineering coveralls and are intended for general shipboard use, however, they do not serve as a firefighting ensemble. When worn with correct battle dress (flash hood, gloves, pant legs tucked in, top button buttoned, sleeves rolled down and buttoned, and steel-toed leather boots), the coveralls provide Sailors with significant levels of protection against a variety of flame and flash fire hazards. The long-term solution will be to develop an all-purpose flame-resistant coverall that will be suitable for general shipboard use, taking into consideration type commander (TYCOM) specific requirements.
“Once FRVs are issued, it is the only uniform authorized to be worn at sea, to include all watchstations,” said Clarke. “The NWU type I, the current seabag coveralls and other polyester and poly blend uniforms will no longer be authorized for wear underway except for special events [such as manning the rails, change of command, or receptions held at anchor]. There is still the safety requirement for arc-flash protection, low-lint and flight deck clothing, which the FRV will not replace.”
Submarine personnel will continue to wear the poly/cotton utility coveralls until a long-term all-purpose coverall solution that is flame-resistant with low-lint qualities is made available. However, a specific timeline for a roll-out to the fleet is unknown at this time. Units with existing stocks of suitable flame-resistant clothing, such as engineering coveralls, are directed to continue distribution until stocks are exhausted.
Futcher noted that Sailors who have not been issued FRV coveralls are safe at sea. Current organizational clothing and the NWU type I remain safe uniforms when worn properly and under normal steaming conditions, however, they are not appropriate for firefighting.
This month and through December, TYCOMs will hold a series of discussions in fleet concentration areas to ensure Sailors have an opportunity to see the new FRV. The goal is to provide an understanding on the basics of where, when and how to wear the new coverall.
Press Release, November 07, 2013; Image: US Navy