8 November 2023

Houston, We Have a PFA

FDM looks to NASA to improve firefighter gear

Houston, We Have a PFA

You’ve seen Shark Tank? Well, welcome to Space Tank.

A UH research team led by Shu-Hwa Lin of the Dept. of Family and Consumer Sciences, Fashion Design and Merchandising Program, is heading to Houston to compete in NASA’s MITTIC Competition. Besides participating in the federal space agency’s contest – the first Hawaiʻi group to do so – the team will seek guidance from NASA experts who study fire resistance during spaceship re-entry.

“We are researching sustainable materials that can be manufactured to create chemical-free turnout gear for firefighters,” says Matthew Kirimitsu. “We hope to take our research to the next level by collaborating with NASA to get feedback, and be an inspiration to other UHM students who want to start their careers with NASA.” 

Ultimately, the FDM team aims to create a better version of fire-resistant gear that’s currently on the market. Firefighting is associated with various cancers; firefighters work in and around dangerous environments and carcinogens. In addition, fire suitstypically contain perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances known as “PFAS” or “forever chemicals,” which are toxic to human health.

After interviewing local firefighters, the team concluded that fire personal protective equipment desperately needs to change, and they felt obligated to create a solution that could maintain firefighters’ long-term health.

“Firefighters deserve protection that keeps them safe from fires, as well as later illnesses that can result from being a firefighter,” says Matthew. “And it can help protect our community from toxic chemicals that are released in high-danger environments.” 

He adds, “Fires are not going away anytime soon, and we want to keep our firefighters and our ʻohana safe. NASA is allowing us an opportunity to make a change, and I am excited to meet some of these highly intelligent individuals.”

Good luck to Chester Leoso, Matthew Kirimitsu, Johnathan Hollis, Alexander Castillo, Louis Jeffers-Fabro and Johnell Ladera in Houston!!!

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