The UK PPE industry often sees personnel changes, through retirement or promotion, but in my time associated with the UK PPE market, close on 40 years, I have never witnessed such an exodus of top management over such a short space of time.
Roger Startin, Joint MD at Bristol Uniforms Ltd (now MSA Bristol), David Frodsham from W.L. Gore, and Tom Hainsworth, MD at Hainsworth Fabrics – these three legends of the PPE industry are retiring and here we celebrate their accomplishments and hear from each in their own words.
Where do I start? Roger and I have been colleagues for most of his 40 years with Bristol. Initially my dealings were with Ian Hill, MD of Bristol, who was a character.
Roger took the lead when Ian sadly had mental health issues and supported Mr Pat Hill who came back in to take the reins when Ian departed. Roger and I were involved with the original Home Office specifications for firefighters’ Tunics A23 – how times have changed.
When Mr Hill senior sold the business, Roger, joined later by Ian Mitchell as Joint MD, really made Bristol flourish. It is unusual to see joint MDs work so closely and well together. What a job they made of it, with Bristol Uniforms Ltd becoming one of the world’s leading firefighter garment manufacturers.
As they say, times move on and Roger and Ian saw through the acquisition of Bristol by MSA before both retiring.
In his own words: Roger Startin – MSA Bristol
I joined Bristol Uniforms in 1981 fresh from university. I started on the factory floor, training and learning about all the processes involved in creating PPE, from concept and design, to lay planning, cutting, sewing and labelling. I developed a flair for the business, taking up a role in the sales department, before becoming Commercial Director in 1987, responsible for UK and international sales. In 2002 I was given the role of Joint Managing Director alongside Ian Mitchell, a sound partnership which worked well for 19 years and saw sales grow from £6m to £40m.
Back in 1981 was an exciting time to come into the industry, with significant strides being made in fibre and fabric technology. By the late 1980s, Bristol Uniforms was working alongside the Home Office and London Fire Brigade to develop the first bunker-style firefighting jacket. It combined a durable and flame-resistant Nomex Delta T outer shell from Hainsworth with a Gore-Tex Moisture Barrier from W.L. Gore. Since then, Bristol pioneered a number of significant developments in new PPE styles and designs, partly thanks to further advances in fabric technology but also in response to the changing roles and diversity of fire services across the globe.
In the mid-1990s the Wessex design was developed with brigades across the Southwest of England and subsequently sold across the world. It was the first collaboration of its kind and the first firefighter PPE design available in both male and female sizes. Revolutionary new outer-shell fabrics such as PBI Gold followed by PBI Matrix, along with W.L. Gore’s high-performance moisture barriers, then paved the way for a new generation in lightweight PPE to combat the threat of heat stress, which began with Bristol’s Ergotech ranges in 2003.
By 2010 it was becoming clear that firefighters needed more flexibility and manoeuvrability in their PPE because their roles were evolving. In response, Bristol began making firefighting PPE more ergonomic and comfortable, and more protective against new hazards, launching a series of innovative products including the ergonomic XFlex structural range, RescueFlex for USAR crews, and the most recent EOS structural range which offers additional protection against harmful smoke particles.
Bristol’s global reach expanded significantly, supplying customers in more than 110 countries, via an international network of 70 distributors.
I also oversaw considerable success at home in the UK, winning contracts for two national procurement frameworks for firefighter PPE in the UK: the Integrated Clothing Project (now the Central PPE and Clothing Contract) in 2007, and the Collaborative Procurement Framework in 2017. The structural firefighting range for the Collaborative Framework features an outer shell made from Hainsworth’s TITAN 1260 fabric with PBI fibres, combined with a Gore-Tex moisture barrier.
The UK business was also significantly boosted by the introduction of Managed Services in 2000, offering UK customers a professional service for cleaning and repairing kit. Ian and I saw an opportunity to grow and develop this area of the business, with Managed Services now operating out of three sites in London, Bristol and Scotland.
To accommodate this growing demand, Bristol has seen a period of considerable expansion over the last 15 years with the establishment of a Central Cutting Unit and new International Distribution Centre in Yate near Bristol, a custom-designed studio for the Product Innovation Department, not to mention the expansion and reorganisation of the Managed Service Centres to increase capacity.
It is motivating and satisfying to work for a company that creates good-quality products for such an important purpose, and to work in an industry that is passionate about firefighter protection and keen to collaborate. This, along with good colleagues, customers and suppliers, is one of the reasons I’ve enjoyed working in the industry for so many years.
As for the future, I know that MSA Bristol will continue to rise to new challenges, innovating and developing new designs and technologies to protect emergency crews from the many dangers they face.
David has been representing W.L. Gore on UK PPE standards for close on 30 years. He is extremely well known in the UK, Europe and internationally. He has a quiet manner but is fiercely persistent in his debating skills. With a passion for firefighter safety, David led Gore in the UK, Europe and internationally on PPE Standards Committees.
I and others were aware of him sometimes having to pick up the pieces for some of his more vociferous colleagues! A true diplomat who was totally on top of his subject, David was a member of several BSI, CEN & ISO PPE Committees, always carrying the BSI mandate in a positive way.
In his own words: Dave Frodsham – Application Engineer, W.L. Gore & Associates
I’ve always felt privileged that I started my 33 years of working on protective clothing solutions for firefighters in the early days of a revolution. I began in 1988, not long after the Kings Cross fire, which was the tragedy that galvanised the development of firefighter PPE and resulted in more progress since then than in all the years that went before it.
At that time, most of the UK fire service was wearing Melton wool tunics and PVC leggings. But after Kings Cross, the A26 Home Office specification was introduced, creating the opportunity for a new kind of protective garments incorporating manmade fibres such as Nomex, PBI and Kevlar.
I began working with my colleague and dear friend at Gore, Roz Tridini, to educate the fire service on the safety benefits of a waterproof, breathable moisture barrier in fire gear that would keep firefighters dry from inside and out. I remember it as a time when everyone in the fire service and the industry had a real willingness to work openly together to understand the risks for firefighters and develop the best possible protection. We spent a great deal of time meeting regularly with Home Office scientists, fire services and the FBU’s health and safety team led at that time by Dave Matthews.
The focus of our work was always on finding the optimum balance between protection and physiological burden, which has underpinned all the development work to this day. It was exciting to be part of a team of pioneers, none more so than Roz, where we were able to measure the impact of PPE using state-of-the-art physiological assessments in the most advanced climatic chambers ever designed. It allowed me to become a contributor to the development of British, European and ISO standards as I developed my own knowledge and expertise in the field.
Over the years, I have been lucky enough to work on some significant and groundbreaking developments in firefighter protection. We started out with the first GORE-TEX Moisture Barrier which radically changed the performance and protection levels of firefighter PPE.
I’ve been immensely proud to have been part of the evolution of that original technology. Our focus on continued innovation led to the introduction of blood, chemical and pathogen protection with GORE-TEX CROSSTECH Product Technology, then lightweight AIRLOCK Product Technology and now the revolutionary GORE-TEX Parallon System.
Although it didn’t make it into production, one of the most fascinating projects I was involved in was a plan to create a cryogenic cooling system that would be worn by first responders at hazmat incidents, where heat strain was an everyday risk. Such is the nature of the innovation process that it doesn’t always result immediately in a new product, but it is never wasted and some unique patents were developed that have since been used in other solutions.
Working with fire services at home and around the world has been the next best thing to being a firefighter. I will always be grateful to those who gave their time and patience to help me develop my understanding of their needs and the safety challenges they faced. I am in their debt because it allowed me to forge a wonderful career and make a real difference. Personal protection is a serious business, but the support and enthusiasm of the fire service personnel I worked with also made it a lot of fun. I’m very fortunate that many members of the fire service became good friends and remain so today. I shall miss the humour and camaraderie that we enjoyed while finding solutions to difficult issues.
Tom took over the reins at Hainsworth from his father David, who I worked with. Chalk and cheese comes to mind when reflecting on David and Tom. Hainsworth has been in existence since 1783 and is a global leader in quality fabrics, which have protected firefighters for centuries.
David was more ‘in your face’, Tom quieter but skilful in convincing people of his case. However, both knew their subject and led the industry by example. Tom became involved in BSI PPE Committees, then representing BSI into CEN & ISO. Over the past few years Tom has been the BSI lead into ISO SC14 WG3 Wildland Clothing and PPE.
He will continue with the family council who own and run Hainsworth.
In his own words: Thomas Hainsworth – A.W. Hainsworth
The Hainsworth family has been a woollen cloth manufacturer based in Farsley, Yorkshire, since 1783. The foundations of the company were based on the development, manufacture and supply of uniform cloth to the public sector, including the wool Melton worn by the UK Fire Service right up until the late 1980s. I have been in a leadership position in the business for almost 30 years. Although I am now stepping back from day-to-day operations, I remain committed to the ongoing success of the company and family values we share.
I joined A.W. Hainsworth in 1992 and, after a year of working across all areas of the business I had the opportunity to head up the protective fabrics’ division. It was a time of great change in the PPE market, particularly in the Fire Service. The King’s Cross Fire of 1987 highlighted the inadequacies of the fire kit – wool Melton tunics and PVC wet legs – and the introduction of the Health and Safety at work act in 1989 made it both the employers’ and employees’ legal responsibility to ensure risk assessments were carried out and the correct PPE provided and worn. Hainsworth’s textile-development knowledge and expertise, as well as their long-standing partnerships with the UK fire service, Bristol Uniforms and DuPont, gave the company the ideal opportunity to lead innovation for heat and flame protective fabrics.
In partnership with DuPont and Bristol Uniforms, Hainsworth developed Nomex Delta T in 1989. As the outer shell of a multiple-layer structural firefighting garment, it allowed the overall weight of the system to be significantly reduced, thereby improving comfort, increasing protection and reducing heat stress for the wearer. By the late 1990s Nomex Delta T fabric protected the majority of the UK along with many European and some US firefighters.
The success of this fabric and the desire for continual improvement gave the company the confidence to invest in their own fire laboratory. Such an investment would enable us to measure the heat transfer through multiple layers and speed up the process of innovation, allowing us to create even better understanding and closer links with both firefighters and our partners.
In all honesty, from a performance perspective, the first invention that came out of the laboratory was a complete failure. However, it gave the opportunity for Hainsworth to learn, by observing first-hand how fibres react and burn. This process enhanced our understanding and enabled the development of TITAN: the first fabric in the market that reacted in a flashover situation to create ‘Active Air Entrapment’, to better protect the firefighter. A revolution at the time, which Hainsworth patented, it received a Queen’s Award for Enterprise: Innovation in 2003 and became the next generation of outer shell for structural PPE. Firefighters from across the UK, through Europe to Australia and the US are still protected by this technology.
More recently and as a result of further research and development, Hainsworth have reintroduced wool into the protective range, something we had taken out over 20 years earlier! Wool’s natural fire resistance and ability to move moisture away from the skin, thereby helping to manage core body temperature, means that it is an ideal fibre for firefighters’ apparel. The Hainsworth ECODRY range of fabrics now incorporates up to 25% wool fibre, positioned in such a way in the fabric so as to maximise its performance benefits. The work on this range of fabrics was started following the work by the International Standards Organisation Committee on wildland firefighters’ clothing. The committee wanted to improve the comfort and protection offered to wildland firefighters and developed a new standard to encourage innovation in this space. Global warming has seen an increase in the number and size of wildland fires and I am very proud that Hainsworth has been able to improve the protection offered to firefighters tackling these disasters.
Working closely with the passionate and talented people who wear our fabrics, who develop standards and who use our fabrics to create great products has been fantastic fun, as well as an honour. Having a curious team who continually drive improvement is a great privilege and I consider myself very fortunate and proud to have been part of this team for so long, protecting firefighters with, in my opinion, the best protection on offer.
Hainsworth is a company that is committed to investing in local manufacturing, product innovation and, most importantly, people. I am delighted to be leaving the company in good hands with our new Managing Director Amanda McLaren. Amanda will, I am certain, steer the company through its next stage of development, equally committed to these family values.
Roger, David and Tom have been colleagues and friends, and though we did on occasions differ on direction, we never differed on the safety of firefighters. I will miss all three and hope that such a huge void can be filled by their respective industry associations.
All three can be proud of their achievements for their respective companies and more importantly the safety of firefighters.
We wish Roger, David and Tom happiness and health for themselves and their families.