Refining Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – The Personal Touch.
Roger Startin, Joint Managing Director of Bristol Uniforms, explores the unique requirements of firefighting services across the world, and their preferences for specific equipment and accessories with a article called Refining Personal Protective Equipment.
Fire and Rescue Services (FRSs) across the world procure PPE in many different ways. For larger contracts, tenders are often issued and manufacturers are required to interpret the brief and submit an appropriate solution. For smaller contracts, and where existing relationships already exist, manufacturers are often approached directly and a garment is produced in partnership with the customer.
Manufacturers tend to have a range of standard styles on offer to customers and in response to a brief, or as a direct result of customer discussions, they then refine and customise these styles to meet a specific set of requirements and to accommodate different equipment and accessories. There are literally hundreds of possible permutations and it’s extremely rare that any two sets of kit are the same.
Firefighter PPE is created by highly specialist and skilled designers, who use cutting-edge fibres and fabrics to produce ergonomic and lightweight garments that not only enable freedom of movement in extreme environments, but also provide maximum protection. They also ensure that PPE ensembles are fully compatible, and that firefighter equipment can be carried safely and comfortably.
When looking at the finer detail and Refining Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), designers will ascertain the model and sizes of accessories a FRS will need on the job, so that specific pockets, loops and straps can be incorporated. In addition, the preferred hoods, helmets, respiratory equipment, boots and gloves are also taken into consideration, often requiring modification to ensure compatibility.
There are a vast number of radios available on the global market, with specific models favoured by different crews. Each radio will have varying dimensions that need to be catered for. Some are relatively small and flat like a mobile phone, some thicker, some much wider, some with battery packs, and all with different configurations of antennae. Bristol offers a choice of 38 different radio pockets as standard, and will design new bespoke pockets if required. A customer can decide where it should be located on the uniform for ease of use, along with optional associated loops for a remote microphone.
Similarly, most firefighters carry handheld right-angle torches which need to be secure but easily accessible. Again, these come in a wide variety of designs and sizes – Bristol alone offers a choice of 31 torch loops as standard. Some FRSs also opt for glove hooks or D-rings to be incorporated into their PPE, which must be suited to the particular gloves they use.
Over and above the accommodation of accessories, each FRS may also require its own unique badging, and will often select graphic patches unique to its needs. Graphics can be applied directly to a garment using heat-sealed text, a badge, or to a detachable patch of outer material which can then be fastened to the garment by Velcro. Occasionally these are embroidered instead. A graphic may feature the name of the brigade, a logo, the individual firefighter, or simply the word ‘FIRE’.
It is also crucial that this attention to detail and design is carried through to all additional garments worn by a firefighter, to ensure that they are fully protected from head to toe. Helmets, boots, hoods and gloves must fit well with jackets and trousers so that no areas of the body are exposed to harm. This will often require modification of cuffs and collars to accommodate preferred gloves, hoods and helmets, and even the position of jacket seams may need altering to provide more comfort for particular styles of breathing apparatus. Above all, the entire ensemble must be protective, comfortable and easy to move in, enabling the firefighter to operate effectively.
As an example, at Bristol we recently secured an order from Generalitat de Catalunya for our XFlex structural kit, featuring a gold PBI matrix outer layer, Gore-Tex® Airlock® moisture barrier and Nomex Delta C thermal liner. Whilst opting for a standard XFlex style, Generalitat de Catalunya required a number of bespoke features for its kit including a unique torch loop and strap combination, and an integrated safety harness, which is incorporated into the trouser and can be accessed through openings in the lower part of the coat. They have also added bespoke mic loops, pockets and glove hooks.
Robert Gomez from Generalitat de Catalunya believes that being able to customize kit is very important:
“We worked very closely with Bristol Uniforms and its distributor over a 12-month period to ensure they understood our unique requirements. They then came up with an appropriate solution, which not only was ergonomic and comfortable to wear, but was customised to accommodate the equipment used by our firefighters.”
Since the day-to-day role of a firefighter, and the equipment they use, varies around the world, a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach isn’t always appropriate for firefighter PPE. Almost every fire brigade has its own special requirements and preferences with respect to their equipment and how it is used, so this must be taken into consideration with each and every design. This is the only way to ensure optimal PPE performance, and can make all the all the difference to a firefighter in the field.
For more information on Refining Personal Protective Equipment visit www.bristoluniforms.com