Leading designer and manufacturer of protective clothing for the emergency services MSA Bristol, has launched a brand-new structural firefighting PPE line for customers in Germany and the Netherlands. This feature reveals the concept behind the new design and explains how it meets the needs of specific markets.
MSA Bristol has been designing specialist firefighter clothing for more than 60 years and is a long-standing pioneer in this field. Over time we’ve gained a huge amount of knowledge and expertise on the varying styles that suit the needs of firefighters across the globe, along with the fibre and fabric combinations that will offer the best protection.
Crucial to our design process is our continued commitment to communicating and listening to customers and end-users about their needs and preferences, and this includes extensive research into specific national markets. Fire services in each country or region will have different roles and responsibilities. Training and modes of operation will vary, and the landscape, terrain and climate will determine the types of incidents they face, as will differences in housing stock, or the prominence of certain industries. As a result, styles and specific features that are popular in one part of the world aren’t necessarily suitable for fire services elsewhere.
Earlier this year we held a series of voice of the customer (VOC) events with focus groups attended by firefighters and industry experts from across Europe. We took kit samples with us for the firefighters to try and were able to discuss which elements they preferred, from colour, materials and shaping, to the size and positioning of pockets and accessories.
Drilling down to the detail in this way is always very helpful. Many of the firefighters in the focus groups were from Germany and the Netherlands, and we found that these countries in particular had similar needs and preferences for their PPE. The firefighters loved the shaping of our XFlex jackets, for example, but preferred a slimmer fit for the trousers. A clear set of preferences was forming, leading to an opportunity to create a brand-new, market-led design, which would be the first to meet all their requirements.
Findings from these focus groups led to the development of a prototype design, which was taken back to the firefighters to trial in a variety of training scenarios. The feedback was very positive, and with a few further tweaks and adjustments, the final design for the new Bristol X4 was complete.
The result is a new style which takes elements from our popular XFlex and EOS ranges, but offers a more streamlined and ergonomic fit, and incorporates key features such as an integrated harness and a drag rescue device. Crucially, it also offers full compatibility with MSA’s suite of state-of-the-art firefighter equipment, from helmets and self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), to the very latest in monitoring accountability and communication devices. In particular, the jacket fits seamlessly with the iconic Gallet F1XF structural helmet and the industry-leading M1 SCBA, both of which are widely used among fire services across continental Europe. The collar, for example, has been adjusted to better fit with helmets, with the height slightly reduced to prevent rubbing against the chin. Extra foam padding has been introduced at the top of the jacket across the shoulders, and at the top of the trousers over the lower lumbar region, to ensure that SCBA is comfortable to wear and that the kidneys are protected.
A number of design elements have been incorporated to specifically meet the needs of each country. German fire services require both an Integrated Harness System and Drag Rescue Device, as these are used frequently in training and emergency operations. Harness systems are used when working at heights, enabling firefighters to hook onto a ladder for extra safety, for example. The Bristol X4’s Integrated Harness System has an integral belt running horizontally around the chest, and a lanyard and carabiner that can be easily accessed via a pocket and flap, providing an instant safety sling.
The integrated Drag Rescue Device in the coat consists of two strong loops, concealed in the upper back of the jacket. The trouser Drag Rescue Device is enclosed in tunnels which exit the trouser beneath the thigh pocket, accessed by a visible pull tab. These loops can be used to pull or drag a downed firefighter to safety, or two firefighters can take a loop each to carry a teammate between them.
In the Netherlands, firefighters expressed the need for stronger knee pads for comfort when crawling or operating in confined spaces. As a result, the elbow and knee pads on the Bristol X4 are equal to the XFlex models in terms of layers but have also been made smaller to fit a more specific area, which has helped reduce bulk and weight. Rather than being integrated into the seams of the knees and elbows, a section of fabric around the pads increases the flexibility of the sleeves and trouser legs, and means the pads are easier to replace if they become worn. This new design enhances the ergonomics of the sleeve by making it much more supple, durable and lighter in weight.
When it comes to reflective taping for visibility, each country, and sometimes regions within countries, has their own specific preferences for style, colour and configuration. The Bristol X4 can accommodate these preferences, with a range of options to choose from. In Germany, firefighters often use the ‘HuPF’ design on their PPE, a specific reflective configuration devised by Hohenstein.
The pockets and accessory detailing have also been carefully designed to meet the needs of firefighters in Germany and the Netherlands. There is a knife pocket positioned on the thigh pocket, and an extra tool pocket by the ankle for carrying either a knife or a door wedge – easily accessible when crawling through a doorway to secure access.
Fabrics and fibres
The Bristol X4 is made up of a complex combination of specialist fabrics in layers, so that together they protect against numerous health risks, whilst allowing maximum movement and comfort. Firefighter clothing must be flame-proof, heat-resistant and water-resistant but at the same time breathable to keep the body cool and dry, and light and flexible to enable ease of movement. MSA Bristol works closely with the industry’s leading international fabric and fibre manufacturers including WL Gore, Hainsworth, PBI Performance Products, Safety Components and Dupont, offering a choice of highly protective combinations depending on the preferences of the customer. Customers can be assured that every combination will meet the requirements of the European CEN standard EN469:2020 Level 2 for firefighter protective clothing, as well as EN1149:2018 for anti-static properties.
The choice of fabric combinations means there is also a wide choice of colour combinations to choose from, with the most popular in these markets being Navy with Red, Gold with Black, or Lime Green with Black.
Europe and beyond
To date, our focus for the Bristol X4 has been on the markets in Germany and the Netherlands. However, since we have the ability to adapt and reconfigure design features depending on the needs of the customer, we recognise there is huge potential for creating alternative versions of the Bristol X4, tailored to suit other national fire services across Europe and beyond. Since the launch of the design at Interschutz, we are already exploring new configurations of the design to appeal to fire services in Spain, Belgium and Australia, for example.
With the role of firefighters constantly evolving to keep pace with new challenges and circumstances, it is important that the protective clothing industry also continues to improve and adapt. At MSA Bristol we will continue to strive to protect firefighters across the globe by listening to their specific needs and using our expertise to find solutions that suit.
For more information, go to www.msasafety.com/MSA-Bristol