Categories: PPE, Products
Tags: MSA, PBI

Exclusive: Protection without compromise 


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IFSJ sits down with Ian Callaghan, Senior Director, International Marketing & Sales at PBI International 

The protection of firefighters is always a concern when they are on the scene of a potentially hazardous fire, or when they are in environments that puts them at imminent danger. Over the years, the dangers they face has changed. As the world around them continues to evolve, so to must the protection equipment, which needs to be stronger in the face of challenges old and new. Standing at the forefront of this protective equipment is the fabric that is used. It can withstand extreme heat and ensure that injuries are mitigated, therefore, giving the wearer the comfort and confidence to focus on the incident.

PBI Performance Products are one company that have continued to focus their attention on making sure that what goes into PPE is consistent and able to reflect the challenges the wearer faces. With nearly 40 years’ experience, the company continue to stand at the forefront of its industry. To find out how the company have progressed, International Fire and Safety Journal caught up with Ian Callaghan, Senior Director, International Marketing & Sales at PBI International.

A different climate

It is not surprising that upon speaking with Callaghan, he touches on the fact that 2021 had been a difficult year, especially with the pandemic, but 2021 was a year in which the company managed to expertly navigate to further renew its commitment to the fire services. Issues with supply chains have become common place for manufacturers, and this is the case for PBI but one that they have tackled head on.

On the difficulties that have been presented with, Callaghan revealed: “Not just for PBI, it has been a tough two years for everybody no matter what industry you are in. Working from home and not being able to travel to see customers or go to events, it has been a different climate to live in for everybody, let alone to work in as a business, but we have done well.

“Our supply chain has been really supportive during this period and all our customers have been looked after. We have made sure that they have never needed anything. We have been able to continue producing fibre to them throughout 2021, which is obviously vital for safety. Considering the challenges we have faced, we have been able to overcome them.

“Going forward, I think life for everyone will be difficult, and we are already seeing the impact COVID has had on the cost of transport and raw materials, and it is about managing that and making sure that everybody understands that we are doing everyone we can. Not just us, but the supply chain as well.”

The evolution of protection

Callaghan himself is extremely experienced in the sector and is well placed to evaluate changes to market requirements. Whilst many industries have seen changes off the back of the pandemic, Callaghan reveals that the demand for PPE has almost remained the same. He comments: “I don’t think we have seen requirements for PPE change in the last year. However, because of how we have all had to adapt because of the pandemic, we are seeing a lot of change because of that.

“From our perspective, it has completely changed how we address the market. Regarding PPE requirements, firefighters still need to do their job to the best of their ability and to be able to do that they need to be fully protected, and that is what we are here for. That hasn’t changed. Over the last year it is quite clear that the job of a firefighter is evolving, but it has been evolving for many years.

He continues: “The pattern has changed over many years as to what the fire services require, but one thing that has remained the same is making sure that the protection is there for the firefighter. That has never changed and that is where we come into it because our fibre is what gives them that protection. However, because of the variety of activities and incidents that firefighters do, they obviously want to be comfortable, they want mobility which usually fall under the criteria of lightweight and breathable. That has always been the case. People want the highest protection and the lowest weight which is great for us because for a number of years PBI have always been a lightweight option.

“It’s not like we have had to reinvent ourselves, we have always been at the forefront of the lightweight market that has given the best protection. That is what we have become known for, the protection. There is no compromise on that at all for me.”

New developments

To keep on top of the needs of firefighters, PBI are constantly collaborating with the supply chain, its partners and the most important relationship, the end user. This has given them the knowledge to improve on their product.

An example of this type of innovation will be on show this year, and promises to be a positive step for PBI. When asked about their latest innovations, Callaghan reveals: “This year at INTERSCHUTZ we are launching PBI LP, which stands for lightweight protection. For a number of years, our technical team have been working on improving our raw fibre, which we have done with the PBI LP. It is phenomenal in its performance levels and because it performs so well with heat and flames, it is able to be used in a lighter weight construction.

“We have been working very closely with our suppliers to get them to produce LP products and test them, which we have done for a number of years now. Now, we have products that are made with PBI LP that are reducing the outer shell weight without compromising any of the performance which is a massive step forward for the market.

“It has given our supply chain and our end users the opportunity to get an even lighter weight without effecting protection, which is the most important thing. In short, you could say that we have adapted to requirements, but we are always working on improving our fibre. We are ahead of the game, and I think LP will be a massive change in the market over the next few years.”

Working towards a safer future

Of course, for companies like PBI who have a track record of delivering vital solutions, it is often the case that the continued dedication for innovation doesn’t stop.

On how they are able to look forward and improve their solutions, Callaghan comments: “We are very fortunate that we have a fantastic fibre that does exactly what it says it does. Under heat and flame, it is unique in its performance and when you expose it to heat it doesn’t go brittle or carbonise, and most importantly for a firefighter, it doesn’t break open.

“So, in that respect, how do we improve things? We work with the best weavers and manufacturers in the world. Equally as important as that is that we listen to the end users. If they want something lighter or different, we listen to that.

As we ponder on what 2022 might bring, one thing that is certain is that departments will continue to need garments that protect them. The PBI LP looks certain to deliver this globally in what is shaping up to be a positive year for the company. Like many of us, Callaghan is hoping that 2022 will represent a time in which we will see a return to normal.

“On their plans for 2022, Callaghan believes that they will be at the forefront of positive change for their end users: “We are hoping that we will be allowed to get back to some sort of normality. There are a lot of events and a lot of people that we need to see globally who we haven’t seen for over two years. We are of course fully committed to the fire services globally as we always have been, we are really looking forward to launching PBI LP in the right way because it really does bring a new level of performance to Firefighters.”

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