Fire protective clothing: Finding the best fit

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Nik Blymiller, MSA Safety Product Group Manager for Fire Protective Clothing, highlights the evolution of firefighter PPE

Where do things currently stand with fire protective gear across the fire industry and the latest trends you are seeing?

We’ve been seeing the market evolve over the years and the roles firefighters are playing in responding to all different kinds of incidents, not just house fires.

Today, technical rescue situations are becoming more prominent, like during wildland fires and flooding, and we’re also seeing a desire for garments that can perform across new and different scenarios.

It’s these kinds of trends that are driving innovation and diversity in the fire protective clothing market.

The market used to desire having one set of garments that were suitable for everything, but customers have been calling for change.

We’re working to develop new solutions in our fire protective clothing offerings to address these changes.

Not every firefighter is built in the same way.

How is customer feedback incorporated into fire protection clothing design?

Customer feedback is imperative to what we do and how we work to design and deliver new protective firefighting equipment.

MSA Safety and its affiliates, like Globe Manufacturing Company and MSA Bristol, invest heavily in Voice of Customer (VOC) activities during the product development process, and that is critical in firefighter product development.

We work closely with customers throughout their selection, evaluation and tender process to ensure we’re putting forth a garment and solution that aligns with their needs.

That can include different fabric combinations, designs, trims, pockets, whatever it might be.

The flexibility that Globe and Bristol offer is what makes them differentiators in the fire protective clothing industry.

We see that with just the number of different fabric combinations and garment styles that Globe and Bristol can provide.

We’re seeing a move toward lighter, more flexible material, and we’re getting more requests for comfort shields.

Additionally, working through our service Care Teams, we are able to use real life wear experience to design common repairs that can help optimise the cost of ownership.

What efforts are being made to accommodate the diverse physical builds of firefighters?

When it comes to fitting firefighters for protective clothing, we have an array of solutions, whether it’s our MSA Bristol or Globe fire protective clothing.

We offer a wide range of sizes, both male and female, for chest and waist widths, along with five different height groups ranging from extra short to extra tall.

All of our styles are available in women’s fit, which is important as we see the number of women in the fire service continue to grow.

Ultimately, it’s about helping firefighters find their best fit and so they can concentrate on safely doing their jobs.

If you have the feeling that something with a garment is stopping you or is uncomfortable or is physically restrictive, it might be time to consider the latest options.

Layer combinations are becoming lighter and more flexible and there is also the desire for gear that looks nice, as well.

What recent developments have impacted fire protection clothing?

It is well documented that there has been a rise in the frequency and intensity of wildland fires.

We’re seeing a demand for more flexible PPE that allows firefighters to fight those types of incidents in a way that can help reduce or prevent excess heat stress or burden on their person while they’re fighting such fires.

As we speak with customers, we’re hearing more about the different kinds of PPE needed for these types of wildland responses.

To develop solutions for these situations, we’re looking at balancing appropriate levels of thermal protection, particulate protection, heat stress and garment weight for these responses.

A second lesson is about the diversity in the type of firefighter. We are seeing more women and diverse firefighters.

As such, we’re working to make sure we offer products that work effectively to help protect firefighters across a wide range of body types and sizes.

How are hygiene and maintenance aspects being balanced with PPE design?

Cleanability and serviceability are two important factors we look at when designing PPE for firefighters.

In the United Kingdom we offer the Bristol Care managed service, which gives us the ability to help maintain garments for our customers.

We’re also looking at ways to help more of our US fire and rescue customers care for their gear because, after all, purchasing fire protective clothing is an investment and having longevity in protective gear is important.

In addition, observing best practices in cleaning is an important way that our fire and rescue customers can help protect themselves against exposures in the field, so helping to streamline that process can really add value.

We also take attention to selecting trims and seam tapes that can help reduce or prevent particulates from being trapped in the clothing.

For example, we heat seal labels for turnouts with a heat activated adhesive. This eliminates stitching and gives a smoother surface that’s easier to clean.

These tapes also tend to be lighter, more supple and breathable in challenging environments.

How is MSA Bristol staying on top of evolving rules and standards?

MSA Bristol is actively engaged with the various standards organisations, including EN, NFPA and ISO.

We work with these standards making organisations and help provide input on areas like the latest technology and trends in fire protective clothing.

By working through leading laboratories and approval bodies, we ensure our products meet the standards that our customers expect.

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

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