GEAR & TECH

New flame-resistant uniforms will keep troops from feeling the burn

"Feeling the Burn" might be nice when you're at the gym, but otherwise, it's probably not good to be on fire.


Actually, burns are among the worst injuries to come out of war. They are disfiguring and excruciatingly painful — and the effects can be long-lasting.

U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVAN-65) on fire after air operations 14 January 1969. (U.S. Navy)

Unfortunately, burns are a military risk – particularly on ships, in combat vehicles, and around aircraft on flight lines. Take a good look at the photos of the fires on the USS Oriskany (CV 34), USS Forrestal (CV 59) or on USS Enterprise (CVN 65). Those three fires killed 206 sailors and injured 631, and caused over $198 million in damage. While the treatment of burns is improving, they are still very grave injuries. The best option is to avoid them in the first place.

Flame-resistant uniforms for the military have been a long-running pursuit. During World War II, sailors would be required to wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants – even in the hot and humid climates of the South Pacific. Uncomfortable in the steamy conditions, long layers were still far better at protecting sailors from burns than the shorts worn by other Allied navies (notably the Royal Navy).

A release from the Marine Corps Systems Command details the latest advancements in the effort to prevent burns: a new fabric combining cotton, nylon, and meta-aramid fibers (for example, Nomex) used in the Enhanced Fire Resistant Combat Ensemble. This upgrade will replace the Flame Resistant Combat Ensemble currently in service with the Marines and sailors involved with the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC).

Marines extinguish a fire during a controlled burn training exercise aboard Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort Feb. 17, 2016. (U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Lance Cpl. Jonah Lovy/Released)

These new uniforms also bring a bonus: they are twice as durable as the ones currently being used, which will save money previously spent replacing less effective uniforms.

Of course, more important than saving money is that these new uniforms could potentially save lives and will certainly mitigate flame-induced injuries — the real bargain of the Enhanced Fire Resistant Combat Ensemble.