Over the last 20 years, the fire industry in the UK has experienced a profound step-change in attitudes towards the cleaning and maintenance of PPE. When our first Service Centre opened in Bristol back in 2000, most fire and rescue services (FRSs) were cleaning their own kit at the station. The offer of professional managed services provided a convenient means of cleaning kit off-site so that firefighters could focus on the job in hand. Today, our in-house service operations have grown exponentially and account for a significant proportion of our business in the UK, with most FRSs now regarding professional managed services as an essential requirement. So much so that we have recently opened a brand-new centre in Livingston, for servicing firefighter PPE in Scotland and the North of England.

1) MSA Bristol’s new Scottish Service Centre
2) PPE is cleaned, inspected, and repaired if necessary by skilled sewing machinists
3) The service history of each item is tracked by a unique bar-code
4) 33kg capacity Electrolux washing machines
5) PPE on the drying rack awaiting inspection

This increase in take up of managed services packages in the UK has been fuelled partly by convenience and competitive pricing, but is also in direct response to health concerns surrounding the effect of smoke particles on the body. Over the years, evidence has emerged that toxic smoke particles are not only harmful to health when inhaled, but can also be absorbed through the skin, and that the mishandling or continuous wear of soot-contaminated PPE can pose a threat to the long-term health of firefighters.

In response, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has taken steps to disseminate practical information and advice on how to reduce the threat of contaminants, such as using wet wipes to clean the face and neck immediately after an incident, showering and changing after removing PPE, and always ensuring PPE is properly cleaned and in good condition before use. All UK fire and rescue services now follow strict guidelines and procedures for doffing garments after fire-related incidents, and the historical perception of soot-covered uniforms as a ‘badge of honour’ for firefighters has thankfully become a thing of the past.

National and international standards have also been developed to provide guidance and to outline best practice on cleaning PPE. In 2019, The British Standards Institute (BSI) published a new Code of Conduct: BS8617: 2019 Personal protective equipment for firefighters – Cleaning, maintenance and repair. It has the status of a standard and provides clear guidance on the cleaning, maintenance and repair of firefighters’ PPE (garments, helmets, gloves, footwear and fire hoods), to reduce the potential health and safety risks associated with poorly maintained, contaminated, or damaged equipment. In addition, in April this year the International Standards Organisation (ISO) published a new international standard for the cleaning and repair of PPE, with MSA Bristol’s Compliance Manager Richard Ballheimer appointed as Joint Project Leader. ISO 23616 Cleaning Inspection & Repair of Firefighters PPE covers garments, helmets, gloves, footwear, fire hoods and importantly, respiratory protection devices, which are particularly susceptible to contamination.

MSA Bristol has been a leading designer and manufacturer of specialist firefighting PPE for more than 60 years, so we are well-placed to take care of the garments we produce, and have the expertise to professionally clean, decontaminate, inspect and repair each item to ensure it is fit for purpose. We supply more than two thirds of fire services in the country with PPE via the Collaborative Framework alone, and the majority have chosen to access our Managed Services as part of their contract. These are serviced by our specialist Service Centres in Bristol and London, and now also in Scotland.

Scottish FRS is the UK’s largest Fire and Rescue Service with 6,660 firefighters operating out of 365 stations, and is the first to make use of our new Scottish Service Centre. As part of our service we provide collection, cleaning, decontamination, inspection, maintenance, garment tracking, delivery, stock support and online ordering via a Wardrobe Management System, in a continuous cycle:

  • MSA Bristol delivery drivers collect soiled or damaged kit from key service hubs around Scotland in a fleet of liveried vans.
  • The garments are transported to the Scottish Service Centre in Livingston where they are professionally washed and dried.
  • Contaminated PPE which has been exposed to toxic or hazardous materials is cleaned in a specially controlled environment.
  • Each garment is thoroughly inspected, and any imperfections or damage repaired by our team of skilled sewing machinists.
  • The garments are checked again, and if they pass the inspection, and are fully fit for purpose, they are returned to the Scottish FRS.
  • A service history log is completed for each item of PPE, recording all cleaning, repairs, decontamination and inspections. Unique bar codes enable the tracking of each item’s life-journey including the date of manufacture, and the specific rolls of fabric that were used to create it.
  • Collection to delivery is undertaken within seven days.

The Service Centre features top-of-the-range commercial 33kg capacity Electrolux washers and driers, which are digitally-controlled and draw from a pre-heated water supply system to reduce cycle times and electricity usage. Thanks to this swift and efficient new technology, the Centre has the capacity to handle up to 900 garments per week, with the service history of each and every item tracked via a unique bar code.

Our new team at the Service Centre, headed up by Manager Anton De Klerk has been working very closely with Scottish FRS to gradually implement all these systems and ensure the processes are running smoothly. Roddy Mackinnon, Equipment Manager at the Scottish Fire and Rescue, comments: “Regular cleaning, decontamination and repair of PPE is essential for providing firefighters with suitable protection. We have been using MSA Bristol’s managed services since March 2021 and are delighted that these services are now being delivered within Scotland. The team have worked closely with us throughout the transition to ensure that the high levels of service and quick turnaround times are maintained.”

At MSA Bristol we firmly believe our fully managed services provide the gold standard of care and maintenance throughout the lifetime of a PPE garment. As a company, our ultimate goal is to offer PPE that provides maximum protection against all potential hazards and risks to firefighters. Whilst we are proud to be a world leader in the design and manufacture of high-quality PPE, it is just as important that our kit is well-maintained and regularly cleaned, so that it gives the very best protection at each and every call out.