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Innovation Key for Fire and Rescue Suppliers

by Marcus

Innovation key for fire and rescue suppliers in order to meet the needs of the UK’s ‘world class’ fire & rescue services.

Suppliers need to adapt to the changing economic environment and continually innovate to provide a robust supply.

Fire and rescue services now, more than ever, need dependable, well structured and financially sound suppliers as we continue to be faced with tough and challenging cuts in public sector budgets. In addition, users need suppliers who are continually innovating and able to provide a value for money service characterised by class leading products and support services fully compatible with the operational needs of our world class fire and rescue services throughout the UK.

To satisfy these demanding needs, suppliers must be close enough to their customers and able to respond effectively to their changing requirements. They must also be able to recognise, and respond to, the influence on their business processes and activities of the wider environment in which they operate.

Bespoke Approach

For Bristol, this translates into ensuring the financial strength of the business, having close control over its new product development programme and providing a fully bespoke approach to product and service delivery.

Customer choice has become one of the keys to unlocking customer satisfaction, which dictates that manufacturers need to provide products to meet the individual needs of their different customers in different markets while ensuring that the highest standards of quality and consistency of product performance are maintained at all times.

Innovation Key for Fire and Rescue Suppliers

Image: Innovation Key for Fire and Rescue Suppliers

This is achieved through a combination of in-house design and manufacture, where products are individually designed to order, made to order and serviced to order. Managed services are tailored to the specific requirements of the customer. In-built resilience and flexibility within the company’s processes and systems ensures a high level of reliability and on-time delivery which, in turn, builds customer confidence and long-term loyalty. Brand equity, reflecting the company’s financial solidity, integrity and pedigree in an increasingly competitive world market, becomes progressively more important and valuable as a contributor to long-term security.

Long-term Sustainability

Sustainability and long-term supply security require the financial strength to invest in efficient manufacturing processes and productivity, the ability to maintain stock levels of component materials to be able to respond to fluctuations in demand, as well as training and skills. In recent years Bristol has focused on its own in-house capabilities as a foil to the potential uncertainties of sourcing core products from third parties in a volatile marketplace. This approach has seen an increased level of investment in design capability, manufacturing capacity and flexibility and IT.

Customer support services have been built up around a flexible, in-house, managed services facility offering a high standard of quality and responsiveness. Putting more power in the hands of customers to remotely manage their own PPE round the clock has provided them with greater control over garment availability and maintenance as well as operational expenditure and budget control.

Increasingly, the flexibility and user-friendliness of online service access has allowed individual firefighters to order new or replacement kit to pre-agreed levels. This is a key component of the wardrobe management system which has become available over the past two years and is offered as part of an integrated supply and service contract. Fire and rescue services that are already benefiting from this system include Hereford and Worcester, Lincolnshire and Norfolk.

Innovation Key for Fire and Rescue Suppliers

Image: Innovation Key for Fire and Rescue Suppliers

New Product Development Programme

The long-term lifeblood of the company is rooted in its ability to sustain an ongoing new product development programme which draws on a combination of good market intelligence and close collaboration with key suppliers. Bristol’s New Product Development Programme (BNPDP) is the centre of its in-house innovation activity and is closely linked to market intelligence supplied from around the world by its extensive network of distributors located in over 70 countries across five continents.

In recent years, the BNPDP has drawn on its wide international involvement in emergency services markets to build on its established reputation as a product innovator. The success of the programme is closely allied to the collaborative approach adopted through involving the company’s principal fabric and component suppliers.

With PPE performance so heavily dependent on both the characteristics and compatibility of individual elements within complex constructions, the need to build and maintain confidential commercial alliances with suppliers is essential. Once fully developed to commercial standards, security of supply is critical in ensuring that, as new products are introduced to the market, the ability to meet market demand is underpinned by consistency in the supply chain and the maintenance of quality and performance standards.

Widening Range of PPE

The output from Bristol’s NPD Programme is a range of new PPE for both the fire and ambulance services amongst which are products incorporating the latest mainstream fabrics and components as well as some which incorporate fabrics developed exclusively for Bristol’s use. An example of this latter category is the most recent range of structural PPE, XFlex™, introduced in 2011, which uses two alternative thermal liners developed specially for the XFlex™ range by A W Hainsworth. These are the Hainsworth® ECO-Dry Active and ECO-Dry Cool. Both use a Nomex®/Wool/LenzingFR weave, replacing the usual thermal barrier to make for a lighter and more flexible finished garment with high wickability and wearer comfort.

Within the last two years a range of other new products has been introduced aimed principally at providing improved wearer comfort consistent with the highest levels of performance and user protection. For the structural market, examples include a range of in-house designed and manufactured fire hoods and the incorporation of optional safety harnesses for firefighter clothing where working at heights is commonplace.

RescueFlex™ is a new range of USAR PPE which incorporates the basic design principles of XFlex™ with added protective features and flexibility for improved comfort. Bristol’s bespoke approach was illustrated in 2011 when the European Marine Directive (MarED) changed the specification of marine firefighting PPE by adopting EN469:2005 for certain categories. As marine firefighters have traditionally worn highly visible yellow protective garments, marine firefighters now have the choice of a new fleet suit meeting EN469:2005 as an alternative option to using structural fire kit which, often in dark colours, can be less visible in difficult marine firefighting environments.

Combined Motorcycle/Fire Kit

With Bristol, innovation is characterised by more than the introduction of improved designs of existing PPE. It also anticipates the requirements of users faced with the need to introduce new, or change existing, operational methods. Rapid response and access to fires and other emergencies in urban areas, often increasingly clogged with traffic, has brought about a reappraisal of the type of vehicles available to get advance contingents of firefighters and their equipment to the fireground. This is particularly relevant in some parts of the world where congestion is a major issue, but also now in the UK, fire and rescue services are looking at motorcycles as rapid response vehicles – able to manoeuvre through dense traffic where fire vans and trucks will be delayed.

Innovation Key for Fire and Rescue Suppliers

Image: Innovation Key for Fire and Rescue Suppliers

Bristol’s new patented motorcycle clothing for firefighters, providing ‘dual compliance’ by meeting rider safety to professional standards, BS EN13595-1:2002 Level 2, and EN469:2005 Level 2 fire protection, offers a unique and novel solution.

2014 promises to be another year of innovation and new product introductions, with a number of new products at an advanced stage of development. With a combination of financial strength, a bespoke approach to satisfying customer needs and an ongoing commitment to invest in new products, Bristol aims to maintain its position as one of the world’s leaders in emergency services personal protection.

For more information visit Bristol Uniforms

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