The changing role of firefighters

Fire brigades are now officially known as fire and rescue services – a title which reflects the changing role and demands placed on them. Fighting fires is no longer the only thing they get called on to do, in fact, it isn’t even the most consistently attended type of incident, according to statistics.


Best garments for firefighters attending high volume pumping incidents


Fire brigades are now officially known as fire and rescue services – a title which reflects the changing role and demands placed on them. Fighting fires is no longer the only thing they get called on to do, in fact, it isn’t even the most consistently attended type of incident, according to statistics.


What are fire and rescue brigades called on to do?


According to the UK Government’s latest statistics (for the year up to December 2019) there were 555,759 incidents requiring fire and rescue service attendance. Of these, 28% (157,156) were fires, including secondary fires (those not involving people or property) – a 12% decrease on the previous year.


False alarm fires were the type of incident most attended at 41%and non-fire incidents 30%.


Non-fire incidents include attendance at flooding, road traffic collisions and animal incidents, along with attending collaboration incidents such as helping other agencies enter/exit from an incident.


44% of the fires attended in the year to December 2019 were primary fires, a 6% decrease on the previous year. Dwelling fires, other building fires and vehicle fires all reduced by similar numbers (between 4 and 5 percent).


Dwelling fires made up the biggest proportion of primary fires, but there have been large decreases in structural fires over the past two decades, due in part to the education and fire safety role of the Fire and Rescue Service, but also driven by an increase in adoption of smoke alarms.


Since October 2015 landlords in the UK have been required to fit smoke detectors, and carbon monoxide detectors where possible, in their properties. Building Regulations also prescribe the type and location of smoke and fire alarm systems for new buildings.


Is firefighter PPE fit for every job?


As the role of firefighters has changed, with response now relatively evenly split between fire and non-fire incidents, are full structural firefighting suits still suitable for every incident?


If brigades only provide one set of response kit, how can it be right for all possible scenarios?


Firefighting kit made for entering fires needs to provide protection from extreme heat and smoke. This necessarily makes it heavy and cumbersome to wear. Is that the right kit to respond to a road traffic incident with people requiring cutting from vehicles? Or to assist with flooding incidents?


Even when responding to fires, how many times do firefighters actually have to go into the flames instead of dealing with the fire from a distance? This raises questions for the industry to answer: does that mean that current turn-out kit is “over-specified”? And does that result in problems of its own, such as firefighters suffering from heat stress, which causes exhaustion, due to wearing hot, heavy kit when its fire protection benefits aren’t required?


What’s the alternative?


This is the key question. There are a host of factors to take into account: operational, safety, stowage, updating procedures, budget… there is no easy answer. However, most would agree there needs to be some improvement.


We make a range of standard and bespoke solutions suitable for differing jobs such high volume pumping, tackling wildfires and attending rescue incidents. The priorities are kit that’s lightweight but also practical and tough. All kit needs to be tough enough to provide protection and designed with practicality in mind.


Some brigades are now using a technical rescue jacket, which can be worn when responding to non-fire incidents.


What other clothing options would work for your brigade? What difference would station clothing that was fire resistant and comfortable make if it meant you could avoid donning full kit for every shout?


Our new product development team works hard to bring to market the best in firefighting kit and we’re keen to reflect the modern firefighting environment. What clothing or kit would you like to see brought to market?


To discuss the options for your brigade, give our friendly team a call on +44 (0) 1332 341030.

How useful are test results when choosing new firefighter kit?

All firefighter PPE must conform to a range of international and British standards, but how useful are the test results when choosing your firefighters’ kit? How can you be sure that you have created the right specification for your new firefighting PPE? And what are the elements to consider before making a decision on what to buy?


What standards must firefighting garments meet?


Firefighting clothing must meet a variety of international and British standards including:


• EN 469:2005 – minimum protection requirements for protective clothing for firefighters, measured as Level 1 (lower protection) and Level 2 (higher protection)

• EN 13911 – protective clothing and hoods for firefighters

• BS 8617:2019 – cleaning, maintenance and repair


There are additional standards for helmets, footwear, gloves, eye protection and a range of other firefighting PPE.


Each garment will be tested by an independent specialist laboratory and a test report issued. But as with many things, the numbers don’t tell the whole story.


What is firefighting kit tested for?


The four main areas of performance that firefighting clothing is tested for are:


• Heat protection rating

• Breathability rating

• Ergonomic rating

• Moisture vapour resistance rating


Firefighting suits are made up of layers – usually an outer layer, a moisture and particulate barrier and a thermal lining. Getting the right balance of all three so that the firefighting gear both offers protection and doesn’t hamper the wearer or put them at increased risk of exhaustion is the holy grail of kit design.


Clearly clothing made for tackling fires needs to be able to protect the wearer from heat – but what’s the Goldilocks standard? When does too much heat protection become a problem for other areas of performance?


An increased heat protection rating will increase the weight of the kit and how hot the wearer will get. This decreases the breathability rating. So where is the sweet-spot for the right level of heat protection which also gives your firefighters enough breathability?


The minimum standard for heat protection is 13 – do you need to specify a higher number if that means your team will tire more quickly and be hotter when working, putting them at increased risk of heat exhaustion?


The ergonomic rating tells you how easy it is to move around in the kit, but the assumption is that the easier it is to move around, the more compromises have been made on heat protection due to the materials available but with the right kit that doesn’t have to be the case. Again, it’s about finding the right balance between the protection offered and the practicalities of wear.


The moisture vapour resistance rating (also known as the RET rating) is a measure of how breathable the kit is. A lower number is better for this test.


The moisture barrier in firefighting turnout kits help protect against water, chemicals, and viral agents leaching through on to clothes and skin underneath. But they also need to allow moisture out of the kit to minimise the chances of firefighters suffering from steam burns.


How to decide on the right firefighting kit for you?


With such a large number of variables for each individual piece of firefighting kit, the very best way to decide on what’s right for your brigade is to do some user acceptance testing. Once you’re satisfied the kit meets the minimum standards to keep your crews safe, testing the kit in the field and getting feedback from your team will help you make the right choice.


The kit you choose might depend on the types of incidents you predominantly respond to but should heavily take account of the views of your crews on what kit helps them work for longer or keeps them cooler.


Even kit with very similar testing results may operate differently when used in the field, so deciding on the right firefighting kit for your brigade cannot be a paper exercise. It needs to take account of the realities of what your crews are asked to do, and how the kit helps them do that job.


For advice on how useful tests are when choosing your firefighting kit – or on any aspect of firefighting PPE – give one of our friendly team a call today on +44 (0) 1332 341030.