Navy reviews fire safety of working uniforms

NORFOLK, Va.— The Navy said Friday that it is reviewing whether flame-resistant clothing should be made available for every sailor at sea after a test revealed the camouflage working uniforms most of them wear are flammable.

In October, a test conducted by the Navy Clothing Textile Research Facility in Natick, Mass., showed the 50/50 cotton-nylon blend uniforms worn by most sailors aboard ships will burn and melt until they’re completely consumed. In contrast, Army and Marine combat uniforms are designed to be self-extinguishing and are made of a mix including flame-resistant rayon.

The test results didn’t surprise Navy leaders. The Navy removed the requirement for all sailors to wear flame-resistant uniforms at sea in 1996, although sailors in specific jobs such as engine room personnel, fire fighters and those in flight-related duties are still issued flame-resistant clothing.

But some sailors and their families were still upset about the test results and questioned why everyone isn’t issued a flame-resistant uniform aboard a ship, where fires are especially dangerous.

On Friday, the commanders of U.S. Fleet Forces and U.S. Pacific Fleet sent a message to their commanders saying that a working group would review the issue.

“We will determine the level of protection our sailors need, given the missions and tasks we expect them to execute in their respective work environments,” Adm. Bill Gortney, commander of U.S. Fleet Forces said in a statement.

It wasn’t immediately clear how much replacing the uniforms with flame-resistant ones might cost if the Navy chooses to go that route. Those figures would largely depend on the working group’s recommendations of exactly who needs a flame-resistant uniform. In December, the Defense Logistics Agency reported having 401,000 Navy Working Uniform trousers on hand that are valued at $14 million and 272,000 blouses on hand valued at $9.3 million.

Regardless, the Navy says the primary consideration for the working group is sailor safety.

“The organizational clothing working group has been tasked with providing fact-based information and determining whether to limit flame resistant organizational clothing to sailors who work in engineering departments, flight decks, and other high risk areas; or to expand fire resistant organizational clothing to all sailors afloat,” Gortney said in a statement. “Those findings are necessary before any recommendations can be made about at-sea working uniforms.”

Navy officials hope to have the group’s findings within a few weeks.

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