NORFOLK, Va. — The Navy started distributing flame-resistant coveralls to its sailors on Wednesday, more than a year after a laboratory test showed that the camouflage uniforms that most sailors wear out to sea will quickly burn up if they catch fire.
The Navy plans to issue the dark blue, cotton clothing to every sailor who goes to sea aboard a surface ship or aircraft carrier by the end of the year. The amphibious assault ship USS Bataan was chosen by U.S. Fleet Forces Command as the first to receive the new clothing because it will be deploying soon. Sailors aboard other ships nearing a deployment will be next in line, according to the Navy. Army and Marine combat uniforms already are designed to be self-extinguishing.
The Navy had long been aware that its working uniforms were not flame-resistant. The Navy decided to abandon flame-resistant clothing for all sailors in 1996 as a cost-cutting measure and because they failed to meet other standards, among other reasons. Sailors in specific jobs, however, such as engine room personnel, firefighters and those in flight-related duties were still issued flame-resistant clothing.
After a video of the 2012 laboratory test showed exactly how flammable its working uniforms are, many sailors, family members and veterans expressed concerns about their safety. Those concerns were raised despite assertions by the Navy that there is no evidence that a sailor wearing the nylon-cotton blend had suffered severe burns. A Navy working group assigned to study the issue noted that the sailors without the proper clothing would most likely be affected if a fire grew large enough to threaten the survivability of the ship, and decided each sailor should have that protection.
“They’re pretty excited out here today,” Capt. George Vassilakis, commanding officer of the Bataan, said as dozens of sailors lined up inside the ship to receive the new clothing.
“You never know. Though the risk would be low for an onboard fire or something like that, it could certainly be severe or catastrophic, which we saw in some of those tests. And so this is just an added benefit or added level of safety for our sailors,” he said.
Each new coverall costs the Navy about $50. The cost to research and issue the new coverall is about $12 million, according to the Navy.
Sailors assigned to submarines will continue to wear the old coveralls because of its low lint characteristics until a long-term, all-purpose coverall solution that is flame resistant and low lint is made available.
(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)