IFSJ Exclusive: PPE to suit the modern firefighter with MSA Safety

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Jason Traynor, General Manager of Global Fire Service Products at MSA Safety, explains how PPE has adapted to meet the changing role of today’s firefighters

The role of the firefighter has evolved in recent years, and the kinds of incidents attended by fire and rescue services (FRSs) across the globe are now more varied and complex.  Today, firefighters tend to spend a smaller percentage of their time fighting structural fires. This is partly thanks to considerable improvements in regulation and fire prevention initiatives over the last few decades, but can also be attributed to an increase in other incidents, including road and traffic collisions, and climate-related disasters, such as wildfires and flooding.

Instead, today’s fire responses tend to vary in type and complexity.  The types of events fire and rescue services are responding to range from road traffic accidents to chemical spills, medical incidents, storm damage and water rescues, and fire-related incidents ranging from structural or industrial fires to wildfires.

As a result, just as firefighters need a wide range of skills and training to operate effectively in these diverse situations, their PPE must also be adaptable and versatile so that it provides optimal protection. The challenge for PPE and fire safety equipment providers such as MSA, is to create ensembles that are lightweight, ergonomic, heat and flame resistant, and breathable, all while providing protection against pathogens, hazardous chemicals and the various elements firefighters face.

Structural Firefighting 

Full structural firefighting PPE, such as MSA’s XFlex and new Bristol X4 ranges, is a must when firefighters are called to tackle fires. These designs have a three-layer construction, with outer fabric to protect from heat and flame, while inner moisture barrier systems from WL Gore help to keep the body cool and dry. This type of PPE helps to protect firefighters from a dangerous rise in body temperature, known as heat stress.

Both ranges have been designed to be ergonomic and comfortable, providing both movement and flexibility.  Curved seams follow the shape of the body, while shoulder shaping, under arm gussets and back pleats make it easier for firefighters to move around.  Both XFlex and the Bristol X4 meet the requirements of CEN standard EN469:2020 Level 2 for firefighter protective clothing.

Urban Search & Rescue

Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) PPE on the other hand, is ideal when firefighters have to work in confined spaces or attend road traffic accidents. These garments often have a two-layer construction incorporating a flame retardant outer layer with a waterproof membrane to provide flexibility and physical protection against injury when deployed in collapsed buildings or damaged vehicles, for example. MSA Bristol’s RescueFlex range consists of a rescue jacket and trouser based on our XFlex design. It is tear and puncture resistant, lightweight to minimize heat stress and provides protection against blood borne pathogens.  It also has reinforcements on the knee and elbow for protection when kneeling or crawling and offers a high level of flexibility for increased manoeuvrability.   RescueFlex meets the CEN standard EN:16689:2017 which specifies requirements for technical rescue clothing.

Increasingly, fire and rescue services are now moving towards a layered, mix-and-match approach to PPE, choosing to combine lightweight, high visibility rescue jackets with structural trousers when attending incidents like road traffic collisions.  In the UK, for example, 21 fire and rescue services across the country have procured MSA Bristol’s RescueFlex jackets in addition to full structural jackets and trousers through the Collaborative PPE Framework. 

Wildland firefighting

Specialist wildland firefighters require PPE that reflects the unique conditions faced in fighting fires on open ground, which are often highly unpredictable in nature and particularly susceptible to prevailing weather conditions and changes in wind direction.  In many areas of the world, wildland firefighting teams are largely made up of part-time volunteers, only called upon in the event of an emergency. As such, low cost, one-size-fits-all PPE designs have proven to be popular in the past, frequently featuring heavy fabrics coated with flame protection which would be washed out over time.

However, today’s fire services have a much greater understanding and acknowledgement of the dangers of wildfires, and are aware that to operate in the most safe and effective manner, firefighters require garments that are particularly light in weight and ergonomic, but also with high performance protection against flame. 

MSA Bristol’s Wildland Firefighting range has been specifically designed to offer maximum protection against fire while increasing comfort and ergonomics, therefore reducing the risk of heat-stress. The outer fabric of the garments is inherently flame retardant, meaning that its protective properties won’t be compromised when washed. The range meets the standard EN ISO: 15384:2020 for wildland firefighting clothing.


In addition to selecting the right protective garments for the job, sourcing the right helmet to suit a variety of incidents is also crucial.  MSA’s iconic GALLET F1XF jet-style firefighting helmet continues to be a popular choice among fire services across the UK and beyond, and is suitable for structural firefighting. It offers superior, unimpeded vision in all directions, 360-degree head protection against heat and impact, and has lighting and communications integrated into the design for excellent quality radio communication.  Functional and versatile, the GALLET F1XF fits particularly well with MSA Bristol’s protective hoods and structural firefighting jackets.  

However, in response to the need for a more versatile helmet suitable for rescue operations, MSA has created the new GALLET F2XR – the first and only firefighters’ helmet on the market that can be used in a wide range of applications, including wildland firefighting and technical rescue operations, rescue at height and water rescue operations. 

Owing to its modular and versatile design, the GALLET F2XR suits a wide variety of working environments and meets the latest standards for Helmets for Wildland Firefighting (EN16471), Helmets for Technical Rescue (EN16473), Helmets for Mountaineers (EN12492), and Helmets for Water Rescue, and is compliant on both non-motorised and motorised rescue crafts (EN1385 +PAS028).

The new design features substantial upgrades in technology integration, comfort, weight and balance – all without compromising the quality, durability and safety performance expected from the MSA Gallet brand.  Innovative features include a retractable ocular visor which can be adjusted to fit the face, and fully integrated LED lamps including both a dual-beam headlamp providing spot lighting and a tail-light to help quickly identify teams on an incident scene. 

To ensure optimal airflow and keep wearers cool in hot weather, the helmet also incorporates dual ventilation on the side and at the top of the helmet.  Additional click-in accessories such as a face shield to guard against arc flash injuries and earmuffs for hearing protection with integrated communications, makes the F2XR helmet suitable for a wider range of operations. 

At MSA Safety, we are constantly adapting and updating our range of products so that they best serve the needs of the modern firefighter.   The success of the GALLET F2XR rescue helmet, along with the RescueFlex and Wildland Firefighting PPE ranges, demonstrates that it is possible to design and engineer integrated, adaptable and versatile PPE, suitable for a variety of applications, allowing fire and rescue services to better adapt to new scenarios and situations. 

While the role of a firefighter has diversified in recent years, I am proud that the PPE industry has risen to the challenge, creating new designs and styles that offer the very best protection for the job in hand.

This article was originally published in the January edition of IFSJ. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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