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Global Progress on PPE Standards

Delegates from around the globe helped to ensure that international standards for PPE took a significant step forward when they met in Sydney at the end of July. More than 40 representatives from 12 countries and a further 30 observers were present for the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) TC 94 SC 14 meeting hosted by Standards Australia and the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC).

During the intensive five-day meeting, a number of work programmes were either signed off or developed. One particularly exciting and substantial development was the decision to create a new transport rescue incident (TRI) standard that would provide the benchmark for firefighter PPE clothing in any transport related environment.

After a number of hours of discussion and debate, the SC 14 committee agreed to move forward under the TRI banner. The programme, which had previously been discussed at an SC 14 meeting in Edmonton, Canada, will now be developed to include a number of key areas including clothing, gloves, helmets and boots.

The momentum gained in Sydney will not be allowed to slacken with a strict timetable in place to ensure that the TRI programme is ready to be advanced when SC 14 meets again in 12 months’ time.

International (ISO) standards are becoming increasingly important as the world continues to shrink. Firefighters from around the world now routinely attend major disasters in other countries and continents, often facing very different firefighting environments to those they are perhaps used to at home. Indeed, this was brought home to delegates attending SC 14, who watched the tragedy of the Malaysian airliner shot down over the Ukraine while attending the conference. During August, firefighters from Australia were called to support the efforts of exhausted Canadian fire crews tackling large-scale wildfires in British Columbia.

The sense that the world is a much smaller place than it was even ten or twenty years ago is helping to drive the importance of ISO standards. The impressive attendance and wide range of countries at the SC 14 committee points to a realisation that the global firefighting community needs to work much more closely in order to ensure the best possible response to incidents. In time, this may mean a comprehensive set of ISO standards, but with territorial nuances to take proper account of varying firefighting environments.

New fire kit & new vovlo appliance shown in comparison with older kit.

Rather than lots of different standards depending on where you happen to be in the world, it is likely that we will move ever more towards a harmonisation of standards with the end goal that wherever you are in the world, there is a standard, a vital term of reference.

The most exciting and heartening aspect of the recent SC 14 discussions was the appetite of the attending countries to engage in working together for the common good. There was a genuine sense that delegates understood the responsibility placed in them to educate and inform on a global level.

Meetings like SC 14 also provide the opportunity for leading manufacturers, such as Hainsworth, to monitor the latest trends in areas such as firefighting techniques and buying processes. One of the biggest changes we are seeing is the ever greater collaboration among fire services both in terms of sharing intelligence, supporting each other operationally and joining forces for purchasing their PPE.

While collaborative buying will increasingly become the norm, it is clear from various conversations that, long-term, value rather than short-term cost savings will be a key driver in the market. This is something Hainsworth and other leading manufacturers have argued for some time, namely that true value is to be found in quality products that are still performing as well as ever after several years. The industry preference would appear to be for highly engineered, innovative garments that last as long as possible, providing cost savings over the lifetime of the product.

Hainsworth was delighted to hear recently that the Country Fire Authority (CFA), which helps to protect over three million Victorians, is conducting trials of the company’s wildland Eco-Dry Shield fabric, while Fire and Rescue New South Wales continues to provide its structural firefighters with Hainsworth Titan 1220.

This month’s AFAC in Wellington will have provided Hainsworth and other companies operating in the industry with the opportunity to continue the discussion around harmonisation of standards, collaborative buying, cost vs product durability, current and future technologies and many other topical issues.

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There should be complete compatibility between the work of companies such as Hainsworth and the various standards committees around the globe. Both should be about driving quality – in innovation and product design – and improving the survivability of firefighters wherever they are in the world, and whatever firefighting environment they face. While the technologies that are harnessed to develop today’s PPE and the discussions that go on around the table of committees such as SC 14 may, at times, be highly complex, no one working in the industry should ever lose sight of the very simple brief given to all of us. That is to ensure that firefighters are able to return home safely to their loved ones at the end of every working day.

By playing its part on various standards committees in Europe and elsewhere in the world and by continuing to innovate and develop new fabric technologies, Hainsworth has, over the past 150 years, aimed to be a lot more than merely a manufacturer. Hainsworth, and a small number of other established companies, are operating in a very specialist sector; one in which we are talking about the difference between life and death on a daily, indeed hourly, basis.

It should never be a cold, transactional business but rather one in which all parties – firefighters, procurement officials, manufacturers, standards committees and others – work in partnership to ensure that our fire crews are afforded the greatest possible protection.

For more information, go to www.protectsyou.co.uk

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Simon Burnett-Boothroyd is Sales and Innovation Executive at Hainsworth.