Roger Startin, Joint Managing Director of Bristol Uniforms, looks at the importance of high quality, well-fitting personal protective equipment and the steps firefighters can take to ensure their PPE is the correct size and fit
When it comes to PPE, fabric, design and fit are the key to keeping firefighters safe.
Good PPE starts with cutting-edge fabric. Innovations from leading fibre and fabric manufacturers, such as WL Gore, Hainsworth, PBI Performance Products and DuPont, mean that PPE manufacturers can produce multi-layered garments that protect from the inside and out. A select combination of fabrics can provide resistance to fire, increased breathability, control of moisture, and are lighter weight – all of which help to reduce the occurrence of heat stress.
DuPont and PBI, for example, provide highly specialised and lightweight fibres for the outer shell of a garment. Hainsworth use fibres such as these to make specialised outer fabrics such as TITAN1220 and TITAN1260 fabrics, which crucially provide outstanding air permeability and breathability, allowing metabolic heat to escape. In addition, when these fabrics encounter intense heat, such as from a flash fire, they instantly thicken, creating a barrier helping to prevent burns.
Our firefighting garments combine this type of outer shell with an inner moisture barrier and liner system which draws moisture away from the skin, helping to keep the body cool and dry. Strenuous work in a hot environment causes profuse sweating, and if this sweat is not able to evaporate, the body is not able to cool itself effectively.
WL Gore is the principal supplier of the most commonly specified moisture barriers, which come in a variety of fabrics. Their GORE-TEX® Moisture barrier with the GORE® PARALLON™ System for example, offers unparalleled levels of breathability and thermal protection, particularly when wet. It is lightweight and helps prevent dangerous increases in core body temperature, which can have an impact on performance and safety.
The design and style of a garment also plays a crucial role in firefighter safety. Whether operating in floods, on the roadside, or in extremely cold conditions, firefighters need to maintain a comfortable body temperature and stay dry. They are also likely to need to crawl, run, and climb to carry out the job in hand. Protective clothing should be lightweight and ergonomic and must work with them rather than hinder them.
Bristol’s XFlex design for example is ‘spiral cut’. As a result, none of the seams of the garment are straight, but instead follow the body’s curves and contours and allow much more movement and flexibility. Amongst other things, the design features shoulder shaping and under arm gussets, which allow full rotational arm movement, and ergonomic three-dimensional articulated elbow and knees. These features have now become the industry standard.
Finally, it is important that every single coat and trouser fits properly, because it is the only way to assure optimal protective performance. The most ergonomic, lightweight, flame-proof PPE could still put a firefighter at risk. PPE that is too big may be too heavy and result in excess material entangling in machinery. Kit that is too small or tight could compromise thermal protection by reducing 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 and thorough checks to make sure it fits properly.
As standard, we have 28 different sizes for both male and female firefighters. Some contracts have even more, for example we have 40 different male and female sizes for the Collaborative Framework contract. Male and female designs are cut slightly differently as they tend to have different physiques. With a huge amount of sizes to choose from, each firefighter can find the perfect fit.
We have a tried and tested sizing procedure and we either train key firefighter personnel to measure colleagues, or send in our own specialist sizing team. By accurately measuring firefighters, the best size can be selected for a firefighter’s frame and size.
During the sizing process, firefighters try on sample kits to help us identify the best fit. 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.
Every firefighter is monitored when they receive their kit for the first time. They must ensure they put it on correctly and all the different elements, for example the 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 be given by the manufacturer.
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 and the coat is put on before the gloves
- 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 six exercises which highlight any areas of concern. Specialist sizing teams are always on hand to provide guidance if needed and if any item requires further adjustment, this can easily be done.
So, as you can see there are many different factors that come together to ensure PPE is safe and provides adequate protection against a whole host of hazards faced by the modern-day firefighter. By purchasing quality PPE, made from cutting-edge fabrics, which is measured and fitted correctly, firefighters can be sure they are getting the very best protection.
For more information visit: www.bristoluniforms.com