Roger Startin, Joint Managing Director of Bristol Uniforms, looks at the importance of high-quality, well-fitting PPE and how to achieve the correct size and fit.
When it comes to good-quality PPE, the key elements for keeping firefighters safe are fabric, design and fit.
Good PPE starts with cutting-edge fabric. A select combination of fabrics can provide resistance to fire, increased breathability, control of moisture, and are lighter weight. 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.
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 also need clothing that allows them to be physically active, whether crawling, running, climbing or carrying heavy equipment. Protective clothing must be ergonomic and work with them rather than hinder them.
However, many overlook the importance of size and fit when purchasing new kit. In fact, it is a vital element of effective PPE as it is the only way to assure optimal protective performance. The very best quality PPE could still put a firefighter at risk if it is not fitted correctly. 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 from the outset and subsequent thorough checks to make sure the fit is correct.
As standard, we provide 28 different sizes for both male and female firefighters for most of our structural firefighting ranges, and can also make bespoke sizes where necessary.
We have a tried and tested sizing procedure to help ensure every firefighter gets a good fit. Depending on the requirements of the customer, we either send in our own specialist teams to undertake sizing, or train key firefighter personnel to measure their colleagues themselves. A series of specific measurements are taken, and during the sizing process, firefighters try on sample kits to help us identify the best fit for their frame and size. 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.
Robust sizing procedures are also offered by our international distributors. Firefighters in New South Wales in Australia recently received their new Bristol Uniforms kit via Pac Fire, our distributor in Australia and one of the country’s leading suppliers of firefighting PPE. Fire and Rescue New South Wales (FRNSW) is one of the world’s largest urban fire and rescue services and the busiest in Australia with over 6,500 firefighters spread across 335 stations attending over 120,000 call outs per year. FRNSW opted for Bristol’s flagship XFlex design, which is particularly ergonomic and delivers maximum comfort for an extensive range of male and female body types.
When sizing for the new kit, FRNSW personnel were given training by Pac Fire in sizing procedures and provided with access to a specific video sizing guide, to ensure that all 6,500 firefighters were properly measured. Paul Clark from Pac Fire Australia, comments: ‘All firefighters know that it’s vitally important to get the sizing right if PPE is to be comfortable and fully protective. We provided FRNSW with thorough training and instructions to make sure all their firefighters got the best fit.’
PSL Fire & Safety is our distributor in New Zealand, supplying our high-quality firefighting PPE to customers such as the New Zealand Air Force, Army and Navy, Refining New Zealand, and Fonterra Emergency Rescue Teams. PSL Fire & Safety has a specific training programme in place for key personnel within its customer base so that they can undertake sizing and fit uniforms correctly for the firefighters within their individual organizations. National Sales Manager, Mark van Dorsten comments: ‘This approach has been very successful in ensuring firefighters are getting a uniform that is specific to them. Taking care to ensure a great fit will not only benefit the firefighter in their operational capability but also improve the safety features that make the uniform unique.’
Checking new kit
Every firefighter is monitored when they receive their kit for the first time. They must ensure they put it on correctly and that all elements of the ensemble – 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 provided.
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;
- 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 exercises which highlight any areas of concern. Specialist sizing teams can be contacted to provide guidance if needed and if any item requires further adjustment, this can be done.
Clearly, there are many different factors that come together to ensure PPE is safe and provides adequate protection against a 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.
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