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Facing the invisible enemy with PGI Safety

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Understanding particulates and protecting our firefighters with PGI Safety

Firefighters face danger every time they don their protective gear and rush into the blaze.

But beyond the flames and smoke, a far more insidious hazard looms — one that is not as immediately perceptible but just as deadly.

This invisible enemy is particulate matter: microscopic pollutants that infiltrate our air and bodies, raising substantial health concerns within the firefighting community.

Recent studies reveal alarming cancer rates among firefighters, a grim statistic attributed largely to their repeated exposure to particulates.

These tiny particles, born from the remnants of incinerated material, carry a toxic payload of carcinogens that can penetrate the body through the skin and respiratory tract.

The consequence is an elevated risk of developing cancers, with firefighters being disproportionately affected compared to other professions.

A pivotal question arises: are we doing enough to protect our frontline heroes from this insidious threat? And if not, what more can be done?

IFSJ Editor Iain Hoey spoke to to Andrew Slater, Managing Director of PGI Safety, a leading manufacturer of innovative protective gear, to gain insights on the issue and to learn about the steps the industry is taking to safeguard those who risk their lives for our safety, exploring the pernicious problem of particulates, its implications for firefighter health, and the protective solutions available to counteract this threat.

Can you briefly explain the issue of particulate exposure to firefighters?

The huge prevalence of Cancer among Firefighters is a massive wake up call for the services and the industry.

There will be legislative changes in the UK and the Health and Safety Executive are now in the process of auditing fire stations.

The National Fire Chiefs Council are also keeping a keen eye on PPE.

What are the immediate and long-term implications of this exposure to firefighters’ health?

There are huge issues with exposure and the immediate concern is the lack of proper facilities on many fire stations.

The long term issues will manifest as we are seeing firefighters working longer.

The ages of 50 to 60 are significant as firefighters often present during this time with cancer and other exposure related illnesses, this could potentially have significant impact on the workforce.

Could you tell us about PGI Safety, your role in the company, and its mission?

As managing Director of PGI Safety (EMEA) I’m very proud to reprersent a global leader with a passion and drive to provide the highest level of PPE for firefighters, emergency services, police, military and industrial professionals the world over.

PGI Safety is a high-performance PPE manufacturer with a drive and relentless commitment to meticulous design, craftsmanship and service.

Using only advanced premium materials and accessories allows PGI to create technical products that can be trusted to perform in the most extreme conditions.

With the philosophy to design and manufacture products that are as good as they can be, performing over time and beyond expectation, PGI delivers garments designed to provide unrivalled performance at the point of extreme need.

PGI is an ISO-9001:2015 registered company, proving our relentless dedication to quality and ongoing process improvements.

As a market leader in technology driven personal protective apparel.

Our vision is to be the number one globally recognised market leader of high performance apparel and our brand synonymous for offering our customers with products manufactured to the highest possible quality standards, only surpassed by our determination to provide unparalleled service to all our customers and partners.

What is PGI Safety’s stance on the current state of protective measures in the firefighting industry?

Its great to see how manufacturers are taking the safety and wellbeing of Firefighters seriously, however there seems to be a big delta between the performance of the products and the level or protection they provide, against what is often claimed.

PGI’s stance is to uphold the highest standards of testing often providing dual certified products, which we firmly believe gives the wearers the peace of mind required when their very life depends on it.

To date, PGI have invested well over a million dollars in the development of particulate hoods alone.

What strategies that can be employed to minimise or eliminate the risk of particulate exposure for firefighters?

The legislation of an industrial Injury is key to the drive for a safer industry in terms of exposure. It is noted that the best way to stay safe is to not be contaminated at all. We need to be smarter at fighting fires.

If there is no life risk, why are we getting close to contaminants at a car fire, for instance. There is no longer a badge of honour around being filthy.

However, in order to always minimise the risk of exposure, we are reliant upon the authorities to ensure their firefighters are equipped with the highest performance PPE.

Can you tell me about PGI Safety’s solutions for firefighters?

PGI have invested millions in the development of our particulate protection hoods. We provide ourselves in offering multiple options to best suit the individuals requirements.

The most important aspect when considering particulate protection is the efficiency of the particle filtration whilst maintaining high breathability.

Heat stress is the second biggest killer in firefighters.

PGI have patented technology and over the years have delevoped a range of hoods that offer efficiency between 97% – 99.9% whilst having breathability of 23CFM, often referred to “as breathable as a non barrier hood”.

We also recognise that everyone is individual, we have a range of styles that suits everyone’s needs, from short bib, extended bib, half shoulder fitment etc.

PGI also utilise different particle blocking options, from Nanoflex to our new laminate, an innovative gravure dot lamination process, covering only 50% of the surface area improving air permeability and flexibility. All of our hoods are PTFE free.

Can you talk about regular PPE cleaning and the best procedures to ensure effective decontamination?

There is a need for a full overhaul of the way we carry out decon and how we wash kit and PPE.

Firekit should now be laundered every time it is used, we recognise that this also puts additional pressures onto the authority, so we have adopted the use of antimicrobial and odour absorbers.

A garment treated with both an antimicrobial and odour absorber keeps the garment smelling fresh all day long.

These invisible layers of protection fight odours in different ways, whether it is through the power of silver and copper in the antimicrobial through the high surface  area of zeolites in the odour absorber.

Agion is a zeolite-based technology that incorporates silver technology and is not a nanosilver.

Ultimately, you can expect your Agion protected garments and textiles to stay smelling fresh longer.

Are there further improvements or developments in the pipeline at PGI Safety to enhance firefighter protection?

Yes, we are excited to have launched our new range of hoods at this years Emergency Services Show that offer further improvements and options to keep our firefighters at the highest levels of particulate protection.

What is your outlook in terms of effectively managing the issue of particulates and cancer risks among firefighters?

The hope is that the UK government classify the huge scientific evidence recently published as factual and that they impose a category of occupational disease, for all cancers associated with the science and evidence available.

In the meantime it is my personal mission to keep interacting with firefighters and authorities keeping them all fully up to date with developments and listening to what they need from manufactures so we are all one step ahead of this terrible disease.

Editor’s View

My discussion with Slater concerning the dangerous prevalence of cancer among firefighters due to particulate exposure was both enlightening and urgent.

The gravity of this matter, underscored by the impending legislative changes in the UK, is a pressing concern for every stakeholder in the firefighting ecosystem.

PGI Safety’s rigorous standards, commitment to design, and willingness to invest in ensuring the utmost safety for firefighters is commendable and sets a precedent for industry players.

What strikes me most is the gap identified between product performance claims and the real protection they offer.

The emphasis on smarter firefighting techniques, understanding the nuances of decontamination, and leveraging advancements like antimicrobial and odour absorbers reveals the layers of complexity involved in truly protecting our firefighting heroes.

With such committed stakeholders and relentless innovation, there is hope for a safer future for those who risk their lives to save ours.

However, it is clear that a collective effort, driven by both governmental bodies and manufacturers, is pivotal.

The fight against cancer among firefighters is not just about cutting-edge PPE, but also about an evolved mindset, where safety is at the forefront of everything we do.

This article was originally published in the October 2023 issue of International Fire & Safety Journal. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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