The cleaning and maintenance of PPE is swiftly becoming a priority for the fire industry. Paul Gibson, International Sales Manager at Bristol Uniforms, explores how Australia and New Zealand are rising to the challenge.
Following research into a possible link between carcinogens found in smoke particles and worryingly high rates of cancer among firefighters, the entire fire industry is working hard to reduce firefighters’ exposure and thereby reduce the risk of long-term health complications. A significant area of concern is the discovery that uniforms contaminated with soot can emit dangerous gases (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons) for a considerable time after an incident, with the risk of cross-contamination carried to fire appliances and back into the fire station.
The professional cleaning of PPE following a fire-related incident, along with other practices such as swift removal of contaminated garments, has been highlighted as a practical means of reducing the risk of carcinogens entering the body. As a result, the issue of cleaning and maintaining firefighter PPE has moved firmly into the spotlight, with current practices and processes being examined and revised across the globe.
Historically in Australia and New Zealand, firefighters were generally provided with one or two sets of designated kit, which would be laundered once or twice a year. We now know that if soiled kit is not washed after a fire-related emergency, toxic substances are likely to accumulate and may transfer to the firefighters’ skin. Thankfully, Fire Services in Australia and New Zealand, and their suppliers, are taking the issue very seriously and are working hard to introduce more thorough cleaning processes to help reduce these health risks.
As a leading supplier of PPE to firefighters across the globe, Bristol Uniforms has been providing in-house managed services in the UK since 2000. As well as regular cleaning and de-contamination, kit is thoroughly inspected for signs of damage or wear and is swiftly repaired and returned to the customer within seven days. Increase in demand in the UK has led to the recent expansion of our two service centres in London and Bristol which now handle up to 3,500 items of PPE every week.
Over the years, we have also provided assistance and support to our international distributors in setting up their own managed services systems, whether offered in-house or via relationships with reputable cleaning contractors.
PSL Fire & Safety is one of our longest-standing international distributors and has been supplying our high-quality firefighting PPE to firefighters in New Zealand for more than 25 years. Customers include the New Zealand Air Force, Army and Navy, Refining New Zealand, and Fonterra Emergency Rescue Teams. In 2016, PSL Fire & Safety began a partnership with workwear laundering specialist Apparelmaster, who provide a fully managed professional solution for garments including laundering, dry cleaning, repairs and a full collection and delivery service. Established more than 40 years ago, and with more than 30 facilities across the North and South Islands, Apparelmaster is ideally placed to work with PSL Fire & Safety in servicing firefighting uniforms. After fire-related incidents, contaminated kit is collected from customers, professionally cleaned and repaired (when required) at the selected Apparelmaster outlet, and swiftly returned. Each firefighter has a spare set of kit to use whilst the other set is being cleaned.
Mark van Dorsten, National Sales Manager at PSL Fire & Safety, comments:
“Thankfully, the days when dirty firefighter PPE was considered a badge of honour is no longer considered macho in New Zealand, and there is now much more awareness amongst our firefighters that contaminated gear poses a serious health hazard. As a result, the thorough and regular cleaning of PPE has become much more important to our customers. By teaming up with Apparelmaster, we can provide our customers with excellent service not only on the point of sale but for the entire lifetime of a garment, so that they can be reassured the kit is always fit for purpose and offering maximum protection.”
More and more Fire Services across New Zealand are signing up to the managed services option, including New Zealand Defence who recently purchased 150 new sets of Bristol’s XFlex structural firefighting range for the Airforce.
In Australia, our distributor Pac Fire has supplied Bristol Uniforms kit for 11 years, serving both municipal and industrial firefighting crews such as the Australian Defence Force, the mining company Rio Tinto, and Airservices Australia who provide firefighting services to 26 of the country’s busiest airports. Just last year, in response to a growing focus on firefighter health and well-being across the country, Pac Fire launched its own in-house PPC/E laundry, inspection and repair service, PAC+CARE.
PAC+CARE’s new service centre is based in Yatala, Queensland, and boasts the very latest in laundering technology. It includes a state-of-the-art filtration system ensuring that once potentially damaging contaminants are removed from clothing and equipment, they do not impact the environment. The centre also has the ability to track and trace each item’s life history from the name of the user, wash count, wash type and number of inspections, to damage records, repair and ultimate disposal.
Prior to the launch of PAC+CARE, staff visited Bristol Uniforms’ managed service centres in the UK and to see first-hand a busy, operational service centre and gain a deeper understanding of the processes.
Paul Clark, Business Development Manager at Pac Fire comments:
“We are proud to be setting the gold standard in Australia for PPC/E cleaning efficiency, inspection, repair and environmental sustainability. These issues have become fundamental to our customers, and there is now a clear demand for service programs designed specifically around the care and maintenance of fire gear.
“In addition to sending gear off for professional cleaning, most Australian firefighters now follow strict on-scene mitigation procedures to reduce the risk of exposure. This typically involves the safe removal and storage of their kit and cleaning oneself on-scene before returning to station for a shower.”
Since the launch of PAC+CARE the company has seen steady uptake of its services. One of the first customers to opt for the fully managed cleaning and maintenance service was Broadspectrum, a company that provides integrated services and solutions across many industries including Defence, and manages Australia’s largest private firefighting unit. Pac Fire has supplied Broadspectrum with more than 350 sets of Bristol Uniforms structural firefighting garments which are now regularly cleaned, inspected and repaired by the PAC+CARE team.
The professional managed services offered by both PSL and PAC+CARE meet the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standard NFPA1851:2014 which ‘establishes requirements for the selection, care, and maintenance of firefighting protective ensembles to reduce health and safety risks associated with improper maintenance, contamination, or damage’. This is currently the only internationally recognised regulatory standard setting criteria for the regular cleaning of kit.
In addition to investing in the regular cleaning of contaminated uniform, the international fire industry is also exploring new technologies and designs to help minimise the risk of dangerous particles entering the body through the skin. The face and neck typically have less protection and have been identified as particularly vulnerable to exposure to potential carcinogens. In response, Bristol Uniforms has developed the new Particulate Protection Hood featuring Dupont’s revolutionary Nomex NanoFlex particulate barrier. Worn under the helmet, it protects the neck and jaw area and is proven to be 99.8% efficient at preventing particle exposure. The hood has sparked considerable interest in the Australasian market, with a number of customer trials underway.
Undoubtedly, there is still progress to be made across Australasia and the world in minimising health risks and helping firefighters to do their job safely, but we can reassure our customers that Bristol Uniforms and our distributors will continue to do all we can to provide not only the very best in firefighter PPE solutions, but also in the high quality care and maintenance of our garments.
For more information, go to www.bristoluniforms.com