NORFOLK, Va. -- This fall, the U.S. Navy will start issuing flame-resistant uniforms to sailors at sea that are more comfortable and lighter-weight versions of the coveralls sailors have worn on board ships the past few years.
Tests of the Navy's Type I working uniform in late 2012 showed it could catch on fire from a single match, would melt and drip when burning, and wouldn't self-extinguish. There had not been a requirement for every sailor on board a ship to wear a flame-resistant uniform since 1996, but video of the incident alarmed sailors, veterans and their families.
So the Navy began issuing new coveralls in late 2013 that were made from a cotton fabric treated with flame retardant.
While those uniforms kept sailors safe from fires, they also were unpopular because of how hot they were.
Some sailors reported having to change two or three times a day because they sweated so heavily , according to Lt. Cmdr. Stephanie Turo, a Fleet Forces Command spokeswoman.
By 2015, complaints had worked their way up the chain of command and Fleet Forces Command, Navy Exchange Service Command and the Navy Clothing and Textile Research Facility got together to develop a new version that was more comfortable, durable and safer. The new versions are called Improved Flame Resistant Variant, or IFRV.
"Shipboard wearability and functionality was of extreme importance with the development of the IFRV," Adm. Phil Davidson, commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, said in a statement.
"We will always make safety a priority, but if we can also improve quality of life for our sailors in doing so, then everyone wins."
Navy personnel won't have to purchase the new coveralls, which are issued by each warship. Procurement costs for the new coveralls weren't available Friday because the acquisition process is still underway, Turo said.
The new dark blue coveralls are made from a tri-fiber blend that allows moisture to escape more easily. The Navy says the uniforms weigh "significantly less" than the current coveralls, although exact figures weren't readily available Friday. The new version also offers flash-arc protection to guard against electrical currents.
Initial feedback from the fleet has been positive. Sailors on board the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge, guided-missile destroyer USS Carney and fast-attack submarine USS Newport News tested the new coveralls during their recent deployments.
Of 700 sailors surveyed about the uniforms, 89 percent thought the new version looked better, 91 percent said it was more comfortable and 85 percent thought it was cooler in hot climates. The survey showed that 86 percent also thought the new version was more durable.
The Navy estimates the new coveralls will last twice as long as the current version.
(c)2017 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)