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New coveralls within 9 months

Fleet leaders announce plans to put flame-resistant uniforms on at-sea sailors

May. 30, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
The Navy is working on a hybrid coverall combining the designs of the existing nylon/cotton coverall, but with flame-resistant material.
The Navy is working on a hybrid coverall combining the designs of the existing nylon/cotton coverall, but with flame-resistant material. (MCSN Derek Paume/Navy)
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Nearly six months after revelations the Navy Working Uniform Type I would “burn robustly” and melt when exposed to fire, fleet leaders have put the Navy on the path to issuing all sailors fire-retardant clothing while afloat.

Adm. Bill Gortney, commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, and Adm. Cecil Haney, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, announced Thursday a three-part plan that includes issuing two new fire-retardant coveralls, the first within nine months and a longer-term solution over the next three years.

“Safety is integral to every duty our men and women perform and this is something we can do to help protect them in rare cases where a fire may break out aboard a ship,” Gortney said in a release.

The first new coverall, the release said, will take its design from the existing standard-issue coverall, but will be made with the fire-retardant fabric already worn by sailors working in repair lockers.

Similar to the NWU Type Is, standard coveralls offer no fire protection and are made of a poly-cotton blend that would also melt, exacerbating sailor injuries in the event of a fire.

This new interim coverall would be used only by surface forces and for carrier crews except those on the flight deck who have their own FR gear. Coverall variants such as the “electrical coveralls” worn by electricians and “engineering coveralls” worn in main propulsion spaces are still authorized.

Submariners will continue to use the issue polyester and cotton coveralls for now as they have “low-lint” requirements.

The final part of the plan, expected to last three years, is to develop a new fire-retardant coverall that meets the needs of all communities in a joint effort between the Navy Exchange and the Defense Logistics Agency. The release says this coverall would be fire retardant, provide “arc flash protection and contains low lint levels.”

Fleet officials, in a news release, said they would “make available as organizational clothing” the new coverall, but stopped short of saying its wear would be required.

The release also didn’t say whether commands would have to cover the additional costs of issuing the new coveralls.

This announcement comes midway through an effort examining fire risks for sailors at sea. A working group tasked with examining organizational clothing recently wrapped its investigation, and this coverall initiative was born from it. A second working group, now underway, is looking specifically at the NWU.

Effective immediately, fleet leaders are trying to better educate sailors to what the fire risks are while afloat, and to minimize injuries.

Your chance to sound off

Fleet leaders have been talking for months about fire risk, but we want to hear from you.

Do you think this coverall plan is the right way forward? Should the Navy develop and pay for two new coveralls?

As for the NWU, do you think it should remain a shipboard uniform or be allowed only at shore commands? Or would you like to see a new, fire-retardant version of the Type Is made for shipboard use?

Send your comments to reporter Mark D. Faram at mfaram@navytimes.com. Your comments could appear in an upcoming issue of Navy Times.

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