Taking the Heat

  • Posted 12.09.10
  • NOVA

In his pursuit of strong materials, David Pogue, technology columnist and host of NOVA's "Making Stuff," wants to know how firefighters dress to boldly enter blazing buildings. In this video, Pogue visits with chemist Rich Young of DuPont to see how a material called Nomex withstands heat and flame.

Running Time: 03:27


Taking the Heat

Posted: December 9, 2010

DAVID POGUE: Clearly tough can mean protection against stabs, bullets, but tough can also mean protection against heat and flame. That is the point of Nomex, a chemically similar product to Kevlar, except it's designed to protect firefighters from heat and flame. These firefighter uniforms used all over the world are half Kevlar and half Nomex. Here is where they put Nomex to the test.

POGUE: Wow. This is some room you got here Rich. Who's your friend?

RICH YOUNG: (Dupont): Thermo man. Meet Dupont's latest innovation in testing garments.

POGUE: Thermoman?

YOUNG: Thermoman.

POGUE: Is this normal clothes, or is this Nomex...

YOUNG: Yeah. This is station wear. This is what a firefighter would typically wear underneath their turn out coat. And this set we've built for you is half Nomex and half cotton.

POGUE: Oh, one side is cotton and one side is Nomex?


POGUE: Oh, so this will be a good test.

YOUNG: This will be a good test, but first we are going to test a set of turn out gear over this and show you the level of performance a firefighter would get with the whole turn out system. So we can get the garment and you can help me dress the manikin now.

POGUE: I am not a high tech scientist, what do I know about dressing dolls?

YOUNG: So this is what a firefighter would wear in a structural fire. Station wear, and a full turnout gear. And normally he'd have a hood and a helmet, but we're not going to put that on...

POGUE: And facial features usually.

YOUNG: Yeah, they burnt off long ago.

POGUE: Man...Oh, its hot! ...Wow.

YOUNG: So what do you think of those eight seconds?

POGUE: Ok. That was a little hotter than I liked, and I was outside. As you can see we have pretty well destroyed this garment.

YOUNG: So look at the garment underneath.

POGUE: Oh my gosh, its spotless!

YOUNG: Spotless. So lets pull it off the shoulders and we will now test the station wear on its performance.

POGUE: Alright.....This is unbelievable. I mean the pants are just gone. They are gone. And this side is protected by the nomex and the clothes are still here. A little charred, but still here.

YOUNG: Wherever it's behind a second layer, like behind this pocket, you can see its almost pristine cause that first layer takes most the heat.

POGUE: This is truly unbelievable, and I give thanks to the firefighters of the world for putting themselves into this, and to Dupont for helping to protect them. And for you Thermoman for demonstrating the effectiveness. Or should I call you Cinderfella? I made that up - you can have that.

YOUNG: No...

POGUE: You know the more we study the science of materials, the more we seem to realize there are variations on strong. There is strong that can resist impact. Strong that can absorb energy. Strong that can support weight. And in the case of clothing, there is strong that can protect us against the dangers of life; gunshots, stab wounds, heat and flame. And for that last part, I'd like to thank you Thermoman. Put 'er there...


Original footage produced for NOVA by
Chris Schmidt
(all) © WGBH Educational Foundation

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