Fitting and Sizing for Optimal Protection
Roger Startin, Joint Managing Director of MSA Bristol, looks at the importance of obtaining the correct size and fit when ordering firefighting PPE.
When selecting good quality PPE, the key elements for keeping firefighters safe are fabric, design and fit. MSA Bristol, the new arm of MSA Safety following the acquisition of Bristol Uniforms, has a wealth of experience creating specialist, top to toe firefighter PPE by using a select combination of high quality, specialist fabrics and cutting-edge designs. However, the importance of size and fit in PPE also plays a crucial role in firefighter safety and shouldn’t be overlooked. PPE that is too big may be heavy for the wearer and could result in excess material entangling in machinery. Kit that is too small or tight could compromise thermal protection by reducing crucial air gaps.
Every firefighter is unique and wearer comfort and personal safety can only be achieved if garments are sized correctly and fit well. The key to this is accurate measuring from the outset and subsequent thorough checks to make sure the fit is correct.
At MSA Bristol we have a tried and tested sizing procedure to ensure each and every firefighter receives well-fitting PPE. Depending on the requirements of the customer, we either send in our own specialist teams to undertake sizing, or train key firefighter personnel to measure their colleagues themselves.
As standard, we provide 28 different sizes for both male and female firefighters for most of our structural firefighting ranges, and we can also make bespoke sizes if necessary.
During the sizing process, a series of specific measurements are taken, and firefighters try on sample kits to help us identify the best fit for their frame and size. We ask firefighters to complete a series of six exercises, which are a combination of stretching, bending, squatting and crawling. By doing these exercises, a firefighter can be sure that their PPE will fit properly.
Recently, in response to the coronavirus pandemic, we created a new social distancing sizing protocol in the UK, which was vetted and authorised by Kent FRS, so that sizing procedures could go ahead as planned. Our sizing team created a circular mat, four metres in diameter with a red spot in the centre, which is laid out in fire stations. Each firefighter stands on the red dot with suitable sizes brought to the edge of the mat to try on, until the correct size is identified. Gloves and masks are worn during the process and PPE and helmets are sanitised in-between firefighters.
Robust sizing procedures are also offered by our international distributors, with some choosing to undertake the sizing themselves, and others sending specialist teams to measure each member of the crew.
Checking new kit
Every firefighter is monitored when they receive their kit for the first time. They must ensure they put kit on correctly and that all elements of the ensemble including coat, jacket, boots, gloves and hood, are compatible and fit together well. Instructions can be found in the PPE’s user manual, but advice is also provided.
It is vital that:
- the trouser leg overlaps the boot top,
- the helmet’s headband adjustment sits on top of the jacket collar without interfering with head movement,
- the hood fits well over shoulders with no interference to the coat fit,
- when donning the coat, the thumbs must be put through the loops that are stitched into the coat’s cuffings,
- the coat’s cuffings sit inside the gloves.
Once PPE is on, firefighters are again asked to complete a series of exercises which highlight any areas of concern. Specialist sizing teams can be contacted to provide guidance if needed and if any item requires further adjustment, this can be done.
Ultimately, when it comes to firefighter safety, good quality PPE is paramount, but it can only offer optimal protection when it is fitted properly. By ensuring PPE is always measured and fitted correctly, Fire & Rescue Services can be sure they are providing the very best protection for each and every firefighter.
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