Roger Startin, Joint Managing Director of MSA Bristol, looks at the importance of procuring compatible firefighting PPE and safety equipment to ensure the best protection
The fire safety industry has benefitted from significant technological advances in recent years, from the development of state-of-the-art fabric and fibres for protective clothing, to the introduction of Bluetooth systems for monitoring SCBA equipment, to the integration of thermal imaging technology to help locate casualties and teammates. Whilst it is excellent that these advances are being made and that new high-tech solutions are becoming available, it can leave fire services overwhelmed with choice and unsure which products will work best with equipment they already have.
Above all, it is essential for firefighters on the ground that all their protective clothing and equipment works well together, otherwise a product selected with the best intentions could act as a hindrance or even compromise safety. Each and every element of PPE and equipment needs to work seamlessly together to provide the very best protection. And regardless of whether an ensemble is made up of excellent quality individual elements, if helmets catch against jacket collars, or gaps are left between gloves and jacket cuffs, then the PPE as a whole will be failing them.
At MSA Bristol, we have always taken the issue of compatibility very seriously and work closely with all our customers to ensure that the PPE we are recommending works in conjunction with a fire services’ other existing PPE and equipment. We regularly undertake compatibility testing to ensure that boots, gloves, helmets and SCBA operate effectively with trousers and coats, without leaving areas of the body vulnerable or exposed to risk. Occasionally, modification of cuffs and collars is required, and even the position of jacket seams may need altering.
The majority of fire and rescue services (FRSs) in the UK now procure their PPE from the Collaborative PPE Framework, which features a Bristol structural firefighting ensemble based on our popular XFlex design, along with compatible rescue jackets for non fire-related incidents and operations. The lightweight, breathable fabric combinations keep the firefighters cool and comfortable, whilst the spiral-cut seams follow the body’s curves and contours to offer superior mobility and flexibility. The sports shaping on the jacket is particularly conducive to fitting an SCBA harness comfortably, and pockets are carefully positioned to accommodate gloves and equipment.
Launched at the end of last year, our latest structural firefighting range, EOS, is a further evolution of the XFlex range. Sleek, modern and ultra-flexible, it enables even better manoeuvrability and superior particulate protection. It features a distinctive reflective taping called HEX-TT, which is heat sealed to avoid accumulation of smoke particles and is also less likely to snag on SCBA. The simpler style on the front of the jacket, free from pockets or unnecessary features where particles can accumulate, helps to avoid the build-up of toxic smoke particles in vulnerable areas. Instead, storm pockets for gloves are situated at the back of the jacket, which typically receives less smoke exposure. Particle-blocking wrist cuffs, and optional particle-blocking skirt around the torso and wind cuffs around the ankles offer additional protection. These features have been carefully designed and tested to ensure that they create an effective seal with compatible gloves and boots, so that smoke cannot infiltrate these vulnerable areas.
Although our PPE ensembles are carefully designed to suit most fire and rescue services, occasionally customers will have additional requirements unique to their crew, such as the need to accommodate specific equipment. Customers can specify particular loops, straps, D-rings and glove hooks as well as pockets and flaps to suit specific tools, lighting and communications equipment. MSA Bristol offers a choice of 38 radio pockets and 31 torch loops as standard, covering the wide variety of equipment that is used across the world.
Other variable options include alternative types of trouser front, leg openings and knee and elbow reinforcements, as well as the accommodation of integrated safety harnesses and drag rescue devices, depending on the operational needs of the crew.
Bristol has always provided its customers with the reassurance of top to toe compatibility with all the products it supplies, and this has been further strengthened since Bristol Uniforms joined the MSA Safety family earlier this year. As MSA Bristol, we can now provide our customers with recommendations for additional equipment such as SCBA and a range of high-tech safety devices that we can guarantee work exceptionally well with our PPE.
For example, the shape, design and concept of the XFlex, Collaborative Framework and EOS structural PPE ranges fit particularly well with MSA’s ground-breaking M1 SCBA which has recently been introduced to the UK market. The modular system offers technological innovations such as a dedicated Entry Control Board (ECB) for incident monitoring, and the MSA HUB base station – a local monitoring system with Cloud technology which enables full telemetric monitoring of cylinder pressure, motion, service-time remaining, personal alerts, thermal alarms, GPS location and more, giving incident commanders access to crucial live data. It also features a fully integrated voice communication C1 headset into the M1 mask, offering exceptional voice transmission and reception of incoming messages. These are essential features to enable firefighters to communicate effectively and reliably with each other, and to enable close monitoring of each member of the team.
Central to the design of the M1 SCBA has been the attention to detail ensuring that it is ergonomic and comfortable to wear, facilitating rather than hindering the demands of the job. The backplate has been designed to fit the natural shape of the back, and is adjustable to suit any size or shape, so that all firefighters feel the same comfortable and balanced fit. The unique padded S-shape harness prevents pressure points and slipping, and at less than 4kg it is the lightest SCBA with height adjustment on the market. The integrated hip belt means that most of the weight is distributed on the hips rather than the shoulders, avoiding strain on the back. The M1 has been tried and tested alongside MSA Bristol’s XFlex, Collaborative Framework and EOS ranges, and together they provide a particularly ergonomic PPE combination, with the seams and shape of the jacket positioned to comfortably accommodate the SCBA harness.
Equally, the new EOS structural PPE range also fits particularly well with MSA’s iconic Gallet firefighting helmet. Variations of the Gallet helmet have been sold alongside Bristol kit for many years. The latest model for structural firefighting is the Gallet F1 XF, which is functional and versatile and can be easily integrated with SCBA facepieces and Bristol’s protective hoods and jackets. MSA has also recently launched the Gallet FX2R – a new multifunctional helmet for technical rescue and urban search and rescue operations, suited to Bristol’s RescueFlex range. It offers innovative features to better respond to specific missions such as wildland firefighting, road traffic collisions, rescue at height and water rescue.
Without doubt, selecting the right PPE and equipment for a fire and rescue service is a big responsibility, and ensuring that each element works well together is paramount. At MSA Bristol with our expertise, robust testing procedures and flexibility in accommodating specific requirements, not to mention our state-of-the-art range of compatible PPE, helmets and MSA’s SCBA, we can ensure that our customers’ ensembles protect their firefighters seamlessly, from top-to-toe.