Two years since the launch of the PPE Collaborative Procurement Framework, the roll-out of new firefighting kit across the country is well underway. We speak to three Fire and Rescue Services to explore how the PPE is performing on the front line.
Back in June 2017, Bristol Uniforms was awarded the contract to supply firefighting PPE for a new Collaborative Procurement Framework, accessible to all Local Authority Fire & Rescue Services (FRSs) across the UK. The Framework was created to provide FRSs with access to high-quality, cutting-edge PPE ensembles, whilst saving considerable time and resources by simplifying and streamlining the procurement process.
As the preferred supplier, Bristol Uniforms was contracted to supply a complete set of top-to-toe PPE, including full structural ensemble, layered jackets, rescue jacket and USAR ensemble, as well as a range of gloves, boots and helmets, for FRSs to choose from. The Framework contract also includes the supply of Managed Services for cleaning and maintenance of PPE, delivered by our two dedicated in-house service centres in Rainham and Bristol.
Two years on and the Framework has seen considerable take-up, with some 26 UK FRSs directly accessing the scheme. Bristol has issued more than 160,000 items of PPE that is now being used by around 20,000 firefighters across the country.
Buckinghamshire FRS were one of the first services to receive their new kit in September last year, turning out in their new gold-coloured XFlex structural coats and trousers and high-vis yellow rescue jackets, after many years of being dressed predominantly in navy blue.
Group Commander Simon Tuffley comments: ‘Firefighters are often at the scene of an incident for many hours, and it is important that they are well protected and comfortable. Our fire crews attended a serious road traffic collision on the day the new kit went live, and I’m pleased to say the firefighters reported it was very comfortable to operate in.’
According to Simon Tuffley, the additional option of rescue coats has considerably improved comfort and visibility at the majority of incidents they attend. Now, when travelling to an emergency, the Incident Commander decides the appropriate level of PPE to wear based upon a risk assessment. He or she may choose for their crew to adopt the rescue jacket when called to a road traffic collision, for example, saving the gold-coloured structural jacket for incidents where a higher degree of thermal protection is required:
‘With the introduction of the new lightweight and highly visible rescue jacket option, our firefighters now have more choice regarding the level of PPE they can wear at emergencies.’
Buckinghamshire FRS have also opted for a Fully Managed Services contract under the Framework for the first time, meaning that Bristol Uniforms will manage the cleaning, repair and maintenance of the kit for the lifetime of the contract. Any soiled or damaged garments are transported to Bristol’s in-house Western Managed Services Centre in Bristol for thorough washing, inspection and repair, and returned to the Fire Service within seven days. Each firefighter has two sets of personal-issue PPE, meaning that one can be in use while the other is being cleaned.
Northamptonshire FRS took delivery of 445 sets of firefighter PPE through the UK Collaborative Framework in March this year. Jim Dorrill, Group Manager in charge of transformation and projects, comments:
‘We are a small brigade, so the Collaborative Framework was appealing. Not only did it give us access to cutting-edge PPE, it was also a more cost-effective way for us to procure our PPE. There was no lengthy tender process to go through and no rigorous trials required as this had already been undertaken over a two-year period by Kent FRS – it was a much simpler process. We opted for the full structural ensemble, minus the helmet. We took out a lease contract with fully managed services, which includes lifetime care and maintenance of the PPE.
‘Feedback from firefighters so far has been very positive. They like the modern new kit: the protection it gives them and the manoeuvrability they have in it. The colour also helps show up contaminants and enables firefighters to quickly identify when their PPE needs cleaning.
‘I can say with confidence that we are really pleased with how the changeover has gone. It was a significant move for us. It had been a long time since we last upgraded our PPE so we weren’t sure how it would go. The support we have received from Bristol Uniforms throughout the changeover period though has been excellent. The team pulled out all the stops to meet our “go live” date and ensured the whole process ran smoothly.’
Bedfordshire FRS received their new PPE through the Collaborative Framework in May this year. Group Commander, Andy Draper comments:
‘Bedfordshire FRS is now the smallest Service in the country with its own budget for PPE. It has always been much more cost effective for us to purchase PPE through a consortium as we get better value for money and can still obtain the best available kit. We have been a part of the S & SE Regional PPE Consortium for many years along with Suffolk, Essex, Kent, East Sussex, West Sussex and Surrey, with Kent as the lead service. Together we re-tendered as a consortium and chose the Collaborative Framework.
‘We chose the full structural ensemble with Bristol Uniforms’ structural coat and trousers, Rosenbauer’s Heros-Titan 2 helmet, Bristol’s fire hood, Jolly’s Crosstech boots, and Vimpex rescue gloves. We also opted for the distinctive yellow rescue jacket which can be worn as an alternative to the structural coat for non-fire related emergencies and rescue operations.
“The crews have been very positive about their new uniforms. They find it’s much easier to move in, with extra flexibility in the elbows, shoulders and knees giving better articulation and manoeuvrability. Just two weeks after receiving the new kit, we attended a serious air conditioning unit fire in a night club. It was a good test of the structural kit and we were really pleased with the protection and manoeuvrability it provided. We’ve also attended a number of complex road traffic collisions since the changeover, so have given the rescue jackets a good work out too.
‘The managed services operation works brilliantly. Dirty kit is safely contained, and collected once a week by Bristol Uniforms, who take it to their Eastern Managed Services Centre in Rainham. Here it is cleaned, inspected, and if necessary repaired, before being returned to us within seven days. In the meantime, if a firefighter’s second set of kit needs cleaning, we contact the team at Bristol, who send out a reserve kit within two hours. It’s very reassuring to know that our crew can always rely on the provision of clean, well-fitting, high-quality PPE, so we can concentrate on the task at hand.’
It’s clear that the Collaborative Framework has proved popular amongst UK FRSs, not least thanks to the time and cost-saving advantages associated with simplifying and streamlining the procurement process.
Our customers have been able to take advantage of volume discounts whilst having access to the very latest high-quality PPE ensembles specifically selected to provide optimal performance whilst being comfortable to wear. As a result, as deliveries of new kit are being rolled out across the country, we’re continuing to receive very positive feedback from firefighters and procurement officers alike.
For more information, go to www.bristoluniforms.com