Wool as a `last line of defence’ for armed forces and emergency services

AgResearch scientists have been putting the heat on wool garments to see what level of fire protection they can provide to those in the armed forces or emergency services.

With wool’s burn resistant properties being well-known, AgResearch – working alongside co-funder Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) and UK-based New Zealand company Armadillo Merino – has been exploring how wool base layer or “next to skin” garments respond to flame and intense heat, and specifically how absorbed moisture in the wool affects the flammability.

“For those in the armed forces or emergency services a lot of the main focus is on the outer garments, for obvious reasons, but here we have looked at the additional defence a base layer garment can offer,” says Dr Alex Hodgson, who has led work for AgResearch.

“One of the experiments we did was to test out how skin beneath a wool base layer is affected by fire – using the skin from a pig carcass. From this, we found evidence that wool garments could lessen the severity of burn injury as compared to standard issue base layers used by police and military personnel in the UK.”

“What we are aiming to show is how effective wool garments can be as a last line of defence in clothing for those working in environments where they may be faced with the risk of fire and intense heat. The relatively high level of absorbed moisture in wool does appear to provide an advantage.”

Andy Caughey, of Armadillo Merino, says: “Soldiers don’t expect to be burnt when deployed, but this important research demonstrates that injuries can be reduced or prevented by wearing a next-to-skin layer of merino as their first or last line of defence”.

AWI says it is continuing to invest in a range of targeted research and development to build and extend the scientific credentials for wool’s natural and unique attributes. These include the ability to manage a microclimate next to the skin, to resist odour and to provide inherent flame resistance without requiring chemical modification.

Some of the work done by AgResearch scientists is due to be presented at a textile flammability conference in Melbourne later this month.