Hainsworth Technology speaks to a firefighter and senior fire officer about their experiences of selecting new kit.
Peggy Male has been a firefighter with West Midlands Fire Service for 19 years. She is a member of White Watch at Bilston Community Fire Station.
‘During the last few years I have been fortunate enough to be able to get first-hand insight into the detailed processes involved in selecting the PPE worn by firefighters.
‘Most recently, this has involved being one of a small number of firefighters taking part in UK-wide trials to choose our new kit under the Collaborative Procurement Framework led by Kent Fire and Rescue Service.
‘I took part in tests held at the Fire Service College in Moreton-in-Marsh which involved us testing a range of kit from different suppliers against different operational scenarios. We had no idea who the suppliers were and gave our opinions which were then factored into detailed evaluation taking place in the background.
‘I was also invited to take part in a physiology study undertaken by Portsmouth University. Over a five-day period, they examined the effect of the preferred kit on the firefighter’s body. It was fascinating to be involved in the trials and to know that the feedback of the end users really meant something to those having to make the decisions.
‘There is no question the kit worn by firefighters today is a lot better than it was 19 years ago when I entered the service. It continues to evolve as new technologies and innovations become available. When I started, the vast majority of firefighters were male but as more women have become operational, so more consideration has been given to body shape and sizing. I think we have something like 28 different sizes available at West Midlands!
‘Whenever new kit is introduced, there are always comments about things like colour, but that is pretty irrelevant. What matters most is am I safe in it and do I trust it to protect me in the range of different situations I am likely to face as a modern-day firefighter.
‘Having been involved in the trials for the new kit, I appreciate the two-way process that is involved between the manufacturers and the end users. We both learn from each other.’
Jason Thelwell is Chief Executive and Chief Fire Officer with Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service. He started out as a firefighter in Cheshire 25 years ago.
‘When I began my career as a firefighter a quarter of a century ago, the standard ensemble included rubber leggings and general-purpose gardening gloves. Thankfully, firefighter PPE has progressed since those days.
‘Bucks recently became one of the first fire services to receive brand new kit as part of the Collaborative Procurement Framework. Our PPE includes new gold-coloured structural coats and trousers and high-vis yellow rescue jackets.
‘One of the big changes is the clothing options firefighters now have for different incidents. This has really helped. The other day, I noticed firefighters on the training ground wearing their lighter RTC jackets with their leggings and boots.
‘I have not heard a single complaint about the new kit since it was introduced. Firefighters seem genuinely pleased with the product including the colour, durability and greater flexibility.
‘Our firefighters were involved in the trialling of the kit, giving feedback to the manufacturers.
‘We used to buy kit in and store it, whereas now the Fire Authority has invested in a fully managed services contract, which means Bristol Uniforms is responsible for the cleaning, repair and maintenance of the kit for the lifetime of the contract. Each firefighter has two sets of kit, meaning one can be in use while the other set is being cleaned.
‘The changing role of the firefighter has also been considered. While we still attend road traffic incidents and fires, we now provide trauma care at medical emergencies alongside our colleagues from the ambulance service. We therefore have to be fully prepared for the many different scenarios in which we find ourselves and firefighters have to have the confidence that their kit will do what they need it to do.
‘Despite budget challenges, we have invested in new PPE as well as new fire engines and cutting gear. Our firefighters feel valued if they know they have the best kit and equipment. My two biggest requirements are that my firefighters feel safe and have total confidence in what they are wearing.
‘I make a lot of watch visits in my role as Chief Fire Officer and I know how satisfied they are on both fronts.”
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