ORIGINAL RESEARCH
Protection Against Cold in Prehospital
Care—Thermal Insulation Properties of
Blankets and Rescue Bags in Different Wind
Conditions
Otto Henriksson, MD;1 J. Peter Lundgren, MD;1 Kalev Kuklane, PhD;2 Ingvar Holmér, PhD;2
Ulf Bjornstig, MD PhD2
1. Division of Surgery, Department of
Surgery and Perioperative Sciences, Umea
University, Sweden
2. Thermal Environment Laboratory,
Department of Design Sciences, Faculty of
Engineering, Lund University, Sweden
Correspondence:
Dr. Otto Henriksson
Division of Surgery
Department of Surgery and Perioperative
Sciences
Umea University
SE-90185
Umea, Sweden
E-mail: otto.henriksson@hotmail.com
Funding/Support: Supported by the National
Board of Health and Welfare, Sweden
Keywords: body temperature regulation; cold;
emergency medical services; hypothermia;
thermal insulation; thermal manikin; wind
Abbreviations:
None.
Received: 08 December 2008
Accepted: 03 January 2009
Web publication: 05 October 2009
Abstract
Introduction: In a cold, wet, or windy environment, cold exposure can be considerable for an injured or ill person. The subsequent autonomous stress
response initially will increase circulatory and respiratory demands, and as
body core temperature declines, the patient’s condition might deteriorate.
Therefore, the application of adequate insulation to reduce cold exposure and
prevent body core cooling is an important part of prehospital primary care, but
recommendations for what should be used in the field mostly depend on tradition and experience, not on scientific evidence.
Objective: The objective of this study was to evaluate the thermal insulation
properties in different wind conditions of 12 different blankets and rescue bags
commonly used by prehospital rescue and ambulance services.
Methods: The thermal manikin and the selected insulation ensembles were
setup inside a climatic chamber in accordance to the modified European
Standard for assessing requirements of sleeping bags. Fans were adjusted to
provide low (< 0.5 m/s), moderate (2–3 m/s) and high (8–9 m/s) wind conditions. During steady state thermal transfer, the total resultant insulation value,
Itr (m2 °C/Wclo; where °C = degrees Celcius, and W = watts), was calculated
from ambient air temperature (°C), manikin surface temperature (°C), and
heat flux (W/m2).
Results: In the low wind condition, thermal insulation of the evaluated
ensembles correlated to thickness of the ensembles, ranging from 2.0 to 6.0
clo (1 clo = 0.155 m2 °C/W), except for the reflective metallic foil blankets
that had higher values than expected. In moderate and high wind conditions,
thermal insulation was best preserved for ensembles that were windproof and
resistant to the compressive effect of the wind, with insulation reductions
down to about 60–80% of the original insulation capacity, whereas wind permeable and/or lighter materials were reduced down to about 30–50% of original insulation capacity.
Conclusions: The evaluated insulation ensembles might all be used for prehospital protection against cold, either as single blankets or in multiple layer
combinations, depending on ambient temperatures. However, with extended
outdoor, on-scene durations, such as during prolonged extrications or in multiple casualty situations, the results of this study emphasize the importance of
using a windproof and compression resistant outer ensemble to maintain adequate insulation capacity.
Henriksson O, Lundgren JP, Kuklane K, Holmér I, Bjornstig U: Protection
against cold in prehospital care—Thermal insulation properties of blanketes
and rescue bags in different wind conditions. Prehosp Disaster Med
2009;24(5):408–415.
Introduction
In a cold, wet, or windy environment, an injured or ill person often is exposed
to considerable cold stress.1–3 Heat loss occurs primarily due to warming of
the surrounding air layer (convection), which is greatly increased by wind or
movements. To a smaller extent, heat also is lost through radiation to cold
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objects in the surroundings or clear sky, and by respiratory
heat loss from the airways. Sweating and evaporative heat
loss from the skin often is minimal in cold environments,
but could be considerable in case of wet clothing or skin
due to immersion or previous physical activity. In addition,
if the injured or ill person is lying on the ground or is in
direct contact with a cold surface, conductive heat loss will
be significant.4,5
To counteract body cooling, the initial autonomous
stress response involves peripheral vasoconstriction to minimize heat loss and involuntary muscle contractions (shivering) to raise endogenous heat production. This initial
stress response can be limited due to exhaustion, central or
peripheral nervous system injuries, medications, or the
influence of drugs and alcohol. As body core temperature
declines, the level of consciousness decreases, blood coagulation is disturbed, dysrhythmias occurs and the heart
becomes more susceptible to ventricular fibrillation.1,2,6,7
Hypothermia, defined as body core temperature below
35°C, is associated with worse outcomes in trauma
patients.8 This cold-induced stress response also will render
great thermal discomfort, which might increase the experience
of pain and anxiety, even in patients who are normothermic.9,10
Thus, reducing cold exposure, and thereby, avoiding further heat loss is an important and integrated part of prehospital primary care. Initial measures must be taken to
move the patient into shelter, remove wet clothing if possible, insulate the patient from the ground, and contain
endogenous heat production within adequate wind- and
waterproof insulation ensembles. In addition, depending on
the victim’s physiological status, available resources, and
expected evacuation duration, the application of external
heat also should be considered to aid in protection from
further cooling.1,2,11–16
The thermal properties of insulation ensembles determining their effect on body heat exchange are thermal insulation (Itr) and evaporative resistance. Thermal insulation of
a material is defined as the resistance to heat transfer by radiation, convection, and conduction measured in m2°C/W (where
°C = degrees Celcius, W = watt) or clo units (1 clo = 0.155
m2°C/W). Evaporative resistance, measured in Pa m2/W (Pa =
pascal), is defined as the resistance to heat transfer by evaporation and vapor transfer trough the material. However, at low
activity levels in a cold environment, sweating is minimal,
and therefore, if the patient and the surrounding insulation
material is kept dry, heat exchange will be determined almost
entirely by thermal insulation.5
Thermal insulation capacity of an ensemble depends
mostly on its ability to retain air. Therefore, thermal insulation almost directly is proportional to the thickness of the
ensemble (about 1.3–1.5 clo/cm). Additionally, form, fit, and
coverage of the body also affects thermal insulation.
External factors that could affect thermal insulation include
moisture and wind.2,5 Wetting of textiles reduces its ability
to retain air; thereby, reducing thermal insulation.17–19
Wind reduces thermal insulation due to loss of the still
outer air layer surrounding the ensemble, the compressing
effect of the wind, and the air permeability of the fabric. For
every ensemble, thermal insulation is reduced exponentially
September – October 2009
with increased wind speed, the relative reduction being larger at lower air velocities, but the greatness of the reduction
is determined by the characteristics of the ensemble.5,20,21
Heat flow through an ensemble is three dimensional,
passing through combinations of layers of textiles and
retained air. Therefore, when determining the thermal insulation of an ensemble, the entire ensemble must be evaluated
by using standardized, full-size, thermal manikins in climatic chambers.5,22–26 Results from manikin measurements
have shown good reproducibility and also agreement with
wear trials.27,28
In the prehospital setting, many different materials and
products are used for insulating patients against the cold.
Some studies have been conducted to evaluate and compare
materials and products,29–33 but, recommendations for
what should be used in the field mostly depend on tradition
and experience, not on scientific evidence. Considering
today’s demands on evidence-based medicine and to contribute to prehospital guidelines on protection against cold,
a thermal manikin was used to evaluate thermal insulation
properties of different blankets and rescue bags commonly
used in prehospital rescue and ambulance services in different wind conditions.
Methods
Design and Settings
The study was performed in January 2007 at the Thermal
Environment Laboratory at Lund University, Sweden.
Insulation ensembles were collected and sorted into two
groups depending on their primary area of use. The high
insulation group (Table 1) includes blankets and rescue bags
used by mountain search and rescue teams and armed
forces medical field units for prolonged prehospital care
and evacuation in cold environments. The low insulation
group (Table 2) includes different types of lighter blankets
in use in urban ambulance and rescue services. The latter
can be applied as either single blankets or in multiple layers
depending on ambient temperature, number of casualties,
and available resources. For comparative reasons the use of
one single layer of these materials, representing a “worst
case scenario” was evaluated.
The climatic chamber (3.2 x 2.4 x 2.4 m) and the thermal manikin TORE34 were setup in accordance to the
modified European Standard for assessing requirements of
sleeping bags.23 A rigid wooden board (194 x 60 x 1.6 cm)
was positioned in the middle of the climatic chamber and
supported about 90 cm above the ground to allow air circulation. To replicate a prehospital rescue scenario, the thermal manikin was placed in a supine position on an ordinary
plastic spine board (Baxstrap, 180 x 39 x 2.5 cm, Laerdal
Medical AS, Norway) instead of a using the prescribed
sleeping mattress on top of the wooden board.
The thermal manikin has the size and shape of an ordinary male person with a height of 171 cm and 1.8 m2 body
surface area.26 The manikin is divided into 17 segments
representing specific body parts, with independent internal
electrical heating and surface temperature sensors enabling
area weighted heat flux recordings. Surface temperature was
set to 34.0 ±0.1°C and after calibration, the thermal manikin
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Thermal Insulation in Different Wind Conditions
Ensemble
Armed Forces
Rescue
Blanket
Five woolen
blankets
Five Woollen
Blankets with
Plastic Cover
RC42© Rescue
Bag
Description
Nylon outer and
inner (dark green)
with synthetic
filling
Five felted wool
blankets (grey)
As above, but with
additional outer
plastic cover (300
x 250 cm)
Nylon outer (red)
with synthetic
filling and cotton
inner (green)
Manufacturer
Swedish
Armed
Forces
Surplus
Swedish
Rescue
Forces
Surplus
Swedish
Rescue
Forces
Surplus
Help&Rescue
AB, Sweden
Thermal
Resistance†† Windproof
(m2 K/W)
Dimensions*
(cm)
Thickness†
(mm)
Weight
(g)
260 x 205
34
2,440
1.7 ±0.1
Yes
190 x 135
30
10,340
1.3 ±0.1
No
190 x 135
30
11,290
1.3 ±0.1
Yes
220 x 140
25
5,940
1.4 ±0.1
Yes
Henriksson © 2009 Prehospital and Disaster Medicine
Table 1—Characteristics of insulation ensembles selected for the high insulation group
*Unfolded dimension of the ensemble except for the five woollen blankets which refers to the size of each blanket
†Average non-compressed thickness of the multilayer ensemble, measured on top of the manikin torso
††Thermal resistance, Rct (m2 K/W), of a single layer of the material measured with a heated hotplate37
Ensemble
RC20®
Rescue Blanket
Fly High®
Rescue Blanket
Rescue Services
Woollen
Blanket
Ambulance
Services
Polyester
Blanket
Bubblewrap
Blanket
Mediwrap
Metallic Foil
Blanket
Akla Metallic Foil
Blanket
Plastic Blanket
Description
Nylon outer (red)
with synthetic
filling and cotton
(green) inner
As above but with a
hood and an outer
margin elastic
cord
100% felted wool
(grey)
100% woven
polyester (yellow)
Single layer of
bubbles within
laminated PE film
on both sides
Metallic laminated
plastic foil (green)
with inner textile
lining (white)
Dual surface
(gold/silver)
metallic laminated
plastic foil
Plastic sheet from
two 125 L bin
bags (grey)
sealed together
Thermal
Resistance†† Windproof
(m2 K/W)
Manufacturer
Dimensions*
(cm)
Weight
(g)
Help&Rescue
AB, Sweden
Thickness†
(mm)
220 x 140
6.8
1,910
1.4 ±0.1
Yes
Help&Rescue
AB, Sweden
275 x 125
6.8
2,320
1.4 ±0.1
Yes
190 x 135
5.5
2,070
1.3 ±0.1
No
FM Trading
AB, Sweden
200 x 135
4.3
1,180
1.1 ±1.1
No
Sealed Air
Ltd, England
300 x 150
3.5
230
0.7 ±0.0
Yes
Mediwrap
Ltd, UK
200 x 120
1.0
200
0.7 ±0.1
Yes
Akla AB,
Sweden
200 x 150
0.01
60
0.7 ±0.0
Yes
Papyrus AB,
Sweden
200 x 150
0.03
120
0.5 ±0.0
Yes
Swedish
Rescue
Forces
Surplus
Henriksson © 2009 Prehospital and Disaster Medicine
Table 2—Characteristics of insulation ensembles selected for the low insulation group
*Unfolded dimension of the single blankets
†Non-compressed thickness of the single-layer ensemble, measured on top of the manikin torso
††Thermal resistance, Rct (m2 K/W), of a single layer of the material measured with a heated hotplate37
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was dressed in a modified standard clothing ensemble consisting of a light, two-piece thermal underwear and knee long
socks with the addition of thermal gloves and a balaclava.25
The climatic chamber was set to 0°C for the high insulation group, 15°C for the low insulation group, and 25°C
for the control condition with no additional insulation, in
order to achieve heat flux values between 20 W/m2 to 120
W/m2, thereby minimizing the measurement error.
Ambient air temperature sensors (PT 100 ±0.03°C, Pico
Technology Ltd, UK) were positioned in level with the
supine manikin, adjacent to the ankles, the mid-trunk, and
the head.
To provide wind conditions, three fans (VWB500,
Indola, Holland) with 50 cm wing diameter and independently adjustable revolutions were set-up next to each
other, in level with and facing the left side of the thermal
manikin. Based on known wind speed effects on cold protective clothing insulation values,5,20,21 three different wind
conditions were selected; low (air velocity <0.5 m/s), moderate (air velocity 2–3 m/s) and high (air velocity 8–9 m/s).
The low wind condition, for which the fans were shut off,
was represented by intrinsic air flow in the climatic chamber and measured with a directionally independent wind
speed sensor (SWA01, ±0.02 m/s, Swema AB, Sweden) in
level with and adjacent to the thorax and knees of the
manikin. Moderate and high wind conditions were provided by adjusting the fan revolution to the desired air velocities and measured using a rotating vane anemometer for
linear air flow (AV2, ±0.02 m/s, TSI Instruments Ltd.,
UK), also positioned in level with and adjacent to the thorax and knees of the supine manikin.
Protocol and Monitoring
Prior to and in-between the trials, insulation materials were
kept dry and at the determined temperature in an adjacent
climatic chamber. Each trial then began with the insulation
ensemble being applied to the thermal manikin in a standardized procedure.
In the high insulation group, the Armed Forces rescue
blanket was folded around the manikin as a mummyshaped, hooded sleeping bag with the overlapping sections
on top of the manikin secured with two straps, one around
the chest and the other around the upper legs. The five
woolen blankets were applied in accordance to the guidelines of the Swedish Mountain Search and Rescue
Organization, tightly folding the blankets in several layers
around the manikin as a mummy-shaped, hooded sleeping
bag and secured with straps as above. Then this condition
was iterated with the addition of a plastic cover folded
around the set of blankets for the evaluation of a windproof exterior. The RC42® rescue bag, designed as a rectangular, multilayer, hooded sleeping bag, was applied
according to the manufacturer’s prescriptions.
The different types of blankets in the low insulation
group were applied on top of the manikin from the neck
down and thereafter, tightly folded under and in-between
the manikin and the spine board. Exceptions were made for
The Fly High® rescue blanket, which is designed as a full
length blanket with a circular opening for the face and an
elastic band all around its outer margins, and therefore,
September – October 2009
according to the manufacturer’s prescriptions, secured
under the spine board instead of under the manikin. The
bubble wrap blanket, being larger than the other blankets,
was applied in accordance to standard procedures of the
Norwegian Air Ambulance Services (personal communication with Haakon Nordseth, HEMS crew, Norwegian Air
Ambulance), tightly folding the bubble wrap around the
manikin as a mummy-shaped, hooded sleeping bag and the
over-lapping sections along the upper side of the manikin
secured with adhesive tape. All materials were secured with
two straps, one around the chest and the other around the
upper legs.
After the application of the insulation ensemble, fans
were either kept turned off for low wind conditions or
adjusted to the desired air velocities for moderate and high
wind conditions. Manikin surface temperature, heat flux,
and ambient air temperature then was recorded continuously for about 60–90 minutes until steady state thermal
transfer had been established and was persistent for 20
minutes. All trials were carried out and repeated in a randomized order so that all insulation ensembles, as well as a
control condition with no additional insulation, were evaluated twice for each wind condition, resulting in a total of
78 scheduled trials.
Data Processing
The average air velocity during the last three minutes of
each trial was analyzed and the trial redone if average values were <2.0 m/s and >3.0 m/s in the moderate wind condition or >7.0 m/s or >9.0 m/s in the high wind condition;
or the turbulence (standard deviation/average air velocity)
after each set of trials exceeded 25%. Results are reported as
mean values ±one standard deviations (SD).
Total resultant insulation value, or Itr (m2 °C/W), was
calculated (parallel method) from heat flux (W/m2), the
gradient between ambient air temperature (°C), and
manikin surface temperature (°C) during the last 10 minutes of steady state thermal transfer.26 After each set of
repeated trials, the variation co-efficient (standard deviation/average Itr) was analyzed and the trials redone for values exceeding 10%.27 Results were converted to clounits (1
clo = 0.155 m2 °C/W) and reported as mean ±SD.
Results
After initial trials and protocol adjustments, a total of 84 trials were conducted, of which two trials were redone due to
exceeded wind speed limits and another four trials were
redone due to exceeded insulation variation co-efficient
limit. The average wind speed for all trials was 0.2 ±0.0 m/s
with 10% turbulence in the low wind condition, 2.7 ±0.6 m/s
with 21% turbulence in the moderate condition, and 8.0 ±1.0
m/s with 12% turbulence in the high wind condition. The
average insulation variation coefficient was 3.1 ±2.5% for the
accepted set of repeated trials. In the control condition with
the thermal manikin dressed in the standardized clothing,
but without any additional insulation, the total resultant
insulation value (Itr) was 1.5 ±0.0 clo in low, 0.8 ±0.0 in moderate, and 0.6 ±0.0, in high wind conditions, respectively. The
insulation capacity of the clothing is embedded in the total
insulation values of the evaluated ensembles.
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Thermal Insulation in Different Wind Conditions
Henriksson © 2009 Prehospital and Disaster Medicine
Henriksson © 2009 Prehospital and Disaster Medicine
Figure 1—Thermal insulation (clo) for insulation
ensembles in the high insulation group at low, moderate,
and high wind conditions
Figure 2—Thermal insulation (clo) for insulation
ensembles in the low insulation group at low, moderate,
and high wind conditions
High Insulation Group
In the low wind condition, the Armed Forces rescue blanket (6.0 ±0.2 clo) had the highest insulation value, followed
by the five woolen blankets with additional plastic cover
(5.8 ±0.3 clo), the five woolen blankets without the plastic
cover (5.6 ±0.3 clo), and the RC42® rescue bag (5.1 ±0.2
clo) (Figure 1). When wind speed was increased to the
moderate wind condition, insulation values for the Armed
Forces rescue blanket (5.1 ±0.1 clo) and the five woolen
blankets with plastic cover (5.0 ±0.0 clo) were both reduced
to about 85% of their initial insulation capacity, while the
five woolen blankets without the plastic cover (4.0 ±0.3 clo)
and the RC42® rescue bag (4.0 ±0.1 clo) were reduced to
about 75% of their initial insulation capacity. In the high
wind condition, the insulation value of the five woolen
blankets with additional plastic cover was reduced to about
80% (4.6 ±0.0 clo) of initial insulation capacity, whereas the
Armed Forces rescue blanket (4.0 ±0.1 clo) and the RC42®
rescue bag (3.5 ±0.0 clo) were reduced to about 65% of their
original insulation capacity, and the insulation value of the
five woolen blankets without plastic cover (2.1 ±0.1 clo)
was reduced to about 40% of initial insulation capacity.
the high wind condition, the bubble wrap (1.6 ±0.0 clo)
presented the least reduction, to about 65% of initial insulation capacity, and the RC20® rescue blanket (2.2 ±0.1 clo)
to about 60% of initial insulation capacity, whereas the
polyester blanket (0.9 ±0.0 clo) presented the greatest insulation reduction, down to about 35% of its original insulation capacity. In between, the Fly High® rescue blanket (1.7
±0.2 clo), the woolen blanket (1.2 ±0.0 clo), the Akla metallic foil (1.2 ±0.0 clo), the Mediwrap metallic foil (1.0 ±0.0
clo), and the plastic blanket (1.0 ±0.0 clo) all were reduced
to about 45–50% of initial insulation capacity.
Low Insulation Group
In the low wind condition, the rescue blankets RC20® (3.6
±0.1 clo) and Fly High® (3.6 ±0.2 clo) had the highest
insulation values, whereas the plastic blanket (2.0 ±0.1 clo)
had the lowest (Figure 2). In between, the Akla metallic foil
blanket (2.9 ±0.1 clo) had about the same insulation as the
woolen blanket (2.7 ±0.1 clo), while the bubble wrap (2.4
±0.1 clo), Mediwrap metallic foil (2.4 ±0.0 clo) and polyester ( 2.4 ±0.1 clo) blankets all had equal and somewhat
lower insulation values. When wind speed was increased to
the moderate wind condition, the insulation value of the
bubble wrap (1.9 ±0.0 clo) was reduced to about 80% of initial insulation capacity, the RC20® rescue blanket (2.7 ±0.1
clo) to about 75%, the woolen blanket (1.9 ±0.0), and the
plastic blanket (1.4 ±0.1 clo) to about 70%, and the Fly
High® rescue blanket (2.3 ±0.2 clo), the Akla metallic foil
(1.9 ±0.0 clo), the Mediwrap metallic foil (1.5 ±0.1 clo),
and the polyester blanket (1.5 ±0.0 clo) all were reduced to
about 60–65% of their initial insulation capacity. Also in
Prehospital and Disaster Medicine
Discussion
Overview
In the low wind condition, thermal insulation values of the
evaluated ensembles in both the high and the low insulation group were in the same relative order as measured
thickness of the ensembles, except for the Akla and
Mediwrap metallic foil blankets that had insulation values
as high as the thicker woolen and polyester blankets,
respectively. In moderate and high wind conditions, thermal insulation values in the high insulation group were best
preserved for the five woolen blankets with plastic cover
and reduced the most for the five woolen blankets without
plastic cover, whereas in the low insulation group thermal
insulation values were best preserved for the bubble wrap
and RC20® rescue blanket and reduced the most for the
polyester blanket.
Possible Mechanisms for Results
In the low wind condition, thermal insulation values correlated to the thickness of the evaluated ensembles. This
coincides with general knowledge that thermal insulation is
dependant on its ability to retain air. The thicker the
ensemble, the more air is retained within the ensemble and
the higher the insulation value.2,5 The higher than expected values for the Akla and the Mediwrap metallic foil blankets are most likely due to their reflective properties. The
impact of this reflective effect is known to be dependent on
the temperature gradients between the outer surface of the
worn clothing and surrounding cold surfaces or clear sky,
and also, on the proportion heat lost by radiation in relation
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to convection, conduction, and evaporation.5 In lower wind
conditions, the proportion of heat lost by radiation is larger than in higher wind conditions, were convection is more
pronounced. This likely explains the greater difference in
insulation value between the Akla metallic foil blanket and
the similar, but non-reflective, plastic blanket in the low wind
condition than in the moderate and high wind conditions.
Wind is known to reduce the thermal insulation value of
an ensemble due to loss of the still outer air layer surrounding the ensemble, the compressing effect of the wind on the
ensemble, and the air permeability of the fabric.5 In the
moderate wind condition, insulation ensembles in the high
insulation group all presented about the same relative
reduction in thermal insulation. This similar initial reduction mostly depended upon the loss of the outer air layer
surrounding the ensembles. In the low insulation group, relative insulation reduction in the moderate wind condition
was more divergent, which seemingly was due to the compressing effect of the wind and the air permeability of the
fabric having a greater impact in these lighter ensembles, in
addition to the loss of the outer air layer. In the high wind
condition, the diversity in insulation reduction was
increased in both groups, as the differences between the
ensembles in resistance to the compressing effect of the wind
and the air permeability of the fabrics were more pronounced.
The compressing effect of the wind can be exemplified by
comparing the Armed Forces rescue bag, which is light and
porous, and thereby, relatively easily compressed, to the five
woolen blankets with plastic cover, which are heavier and not
that easily compressed. Even though both ensembles are
windproof, in moderate and high wind conditions, the thermal insulation value of the Armed Forces rescue bag was
reduced more than was the thermal insulation value of the five
woolen blankets with plastic cover. In the low insulation
group, the Fly High® rescue blanket was secured under the
spine board, instead of under the manikin, giving it a loose fit,
which increased the impact of the compressing effect of the
wind and rendered a greater reduction in thermal insulation
in moderate and high wind conditions as compared to the
RC20® rescue blanket, which is made out of the same windproof fabric as the Fly High®, but fits much tighter to the
patient. In the same way as the RC20® rescue blanket, the
windproof and tight fitting bubble wrap blanket also presented a high resistance to the compressive effect of the wind.
The effect of air permeability can be exemplified by comparing the five woolen blankets with and without the plastic
outer cover. Although similar in resistance to the compressing effect of the wind, with increasing wind speed, the air
permeable woolen blankets presented a much greater reduction in thermal insulation than the woolen blankets with an
additional windproof outer cover. Also in the low insulation
group, thermal insulation of the woolen and polyester blankets was greatly reduced due to their high air permeability.
Practical Implications
At many outdoor related incidents, cold exposure can be
considerable for an injured or ill person. Heat loss often is
aggravated due to exhaustion, light or torn clothing, major
bleeding, entrapment, or the administration of cold intra-
September – October 2009
venous fluids or sedative drugs.3,35 If heat loss exceeds possible endogenous heat production, body core temperature
will decline and the patient’s condition might detoriate.1,2,6,8
In addition to immediate care for imminent life-threatening
conditions, early application of adequate insulation to reduce
cold exposure, maintain heat balance, and prevent body core
cooling therefore is an important concern for the prehospital care provider.2,12,14 Insulation required (IREQ) to
maintain heat balance for a determined level of activity at
various ambient weather conditions can be calculated using
a standardized heat balance model (Figure 3).36
According to the IREQ model for a non-shivering,
awake person at rest (70 W/m2), all of the evaluated
ensembles in the high insulation group provide required
insulation to maintain thermoneutrality in calm environments down to about -10 to -20°C. In moderate and high
wind conditions, the woolen blankets with plastic cover, the
Armed Forces rescue blanket, and the RC42® rescue bag all
provide required insulation for thermo-neutrality down to
about 0 to -10°C. Five woolen blankets without an external
plastic cover only provide required insulation down to
about +15°C. Thus, for prehospital field care in a cold environment, the evaluated ensembles in the high insulation
group are likely to provide sufficient insulation for most
rescue scenarios. However, for protracted evacuations in
windy conditions, where the ability to create a shelter is
limited or delayed, the addition of a windproof outer cover
to the five woolen blankets is of utmost importance to
maintain insulation capability.
Used as single blankets, the evaluated ensembles in the
low insulation group provide required insulation to maintain thermo-neutrality in calm environments down to temperatures ranging from about +5°C for the thick RC20®
and Fly High® rescue blankets, +10°C for the Akla metallic foil and woolen blankets, to about +15°C for the polyester, bubble wrap, and Mediwrap metallic foil blankets,
and about +20°C for the thin plastic blanket. However, in
most ambulance and rescue services, each unit carries more
than one blanket. Thus, for the common urban prehospital
scenario where the exposure for wind or severe cold is limited, the evaluated ensembles in the low insulation group all
are likely to provide sufficient insulation, either as single
blankets or in multiple layer combinations depending on
the ambient temperature. In moderate and high wind conditions, thermal insulation capacity is best preserved by
using the RC20® rescue blanket and the bubble wrap blanket, providing required insulation for thermoneutrality
down to about +10°C to +15°C the Fly High® rescue blanket and +15°C to +20°C respectively, whereas and thermal
insulation capacity for the Akla and Mediwrap metallic foil
blankets, the plastic blanket, and the woolen and polyester
blankets is reduced down to about +20°C to +25°C. Thus,
with extended outdoor, on-scene durations, such as during
protracted extrications or in multiple-casualty situations,
the results of this study emphasize the importance of using
a windproof and compression resistant outer layer, such as
the bubble wrap or the RC20® rescue blanket, to maintain
adequate insulation capacity. Similarly, in accordance with
the results in the high insulation group, thermal insulation
http://pdm.medicine.wisc.edu
Prehospital and Disaster Medicine
414
Thermal Insulation in Different Wind Conditions
Limitations and Further Research
The design of this study enabled the evaluation of thermal
insulation as resistance to heat loss at various wind conditions. Trials were conducted with the thermal manikin
dressed in dry clothing and insulation material kept dry.
However, if the patient is wet or the insulation material is
exposed to rain or snow, evaporative resistance as well as
water permeability and insulation reduction due to moisture also would need to be considered. In addition to
manikin studies at different conditions, human wear trials
are essential to verify and determine what impact these different insulation values would have on human thermoregulation and body core temperature. When assessing and
selecting the most appropriate insulation material for a specific prehospital unit, other practical characteristics, such as
ease in handling and transportation, durability, microbiological barrier capabilities, and economical aspects also
must to be considered.
Henriksson © 2009 Prehospital and Disaster Medicine
Figure 3—Total insulation required (clo) for maintaining
thermoneutrality depending on ambient temperature at
an average metabolic heat production (70 W/m2) of an
awake person at rest (modified for values >10°C).36
of the air permeable woolen or polyester blankets might be
extensively improved by the addition of a simple windproof
outer cover, such as a plastic sheet. Being lightweight and
packable, the reflective metallic foil blankets are promising
for low wind conditions; but as the reflective effect is
reduced with increased convective heat loss, in cold and
windy outdoor conditions, they might best serve as windproof outer covers.
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Prehospital and Disaster Medicine
Conclusions
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