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West Midlands Fire Service chooses PPE after extensive testing procedures
Published:  24 June, 2014

Today’s firefighters attend an increasingly complex range of scenarios.  Whether it is small house fires, flood and water rescues, car accidents or tackling large industrial fires, firefighters need turnout gear that both protects from heat and flame and is comfortable to wear.  But what exactly do firefighters look for in their turnout gear?

In late 2011 West Midlands Fire & Rescue Service worked with DuPont and its Partner Program members Hainsworth and Bristol Uniforms to develop its new firefighting turnout gear made from Hainsworth Titan fabric that incorporates DuPont Nomex and DuPont Kevlar fibres.  George Farenden, consultant for DuPont, asked West Midlands Fire Service what qualities they look for in turnout gear and the fabric it’s made from, as part of his ongoing research to ensure firefighter PPE is always evolving and improving to best suit modern firefighting needs.

George explained: ‘We went to the people who train firefighters to fight fires, those who teach firefighters flashover awareness, prevention and suppression. These are trainers who understand fires, the extremes and limits that firefighters can operate in. They understand a real fire so we asked someone who trains not only operational firefighters but who also trains the trainers.’

Carl Bachelor has been a professional firefighter and instructor at West Midlands Fire Service for more than 25 years. Carl trains up to 1,500 firefighters per year, based at the West Midlands Fire Service Academy UK, just outside of Birmingham. Carl said: ‘We have a procurement team and a technical service team that work together to research and source all our turn-out gear. This process includes lengthy testing and wear trials, which involve several firefighters in hot fire scenarios at the academy. ‘

After substantial testing, the Hainsworth Titan turnout gear incorporating DuPont Nomex and DuPon Kevlar fibres was chosen for the additional features it offered that maximised comfort and protection. The Nomex fibre demonstrated that it could withstand intense heat and flame for an extended period and will not melt or drip onto skin if engulfed in flash fire. The tests also highlighted that once the garment was removed from flame or heat, it self-extinguishes which gave firefighters extra time to escape unscathed from the immediate danger.

‘Not only do the garments offer high levels of thermal protection, but the Nomex fibre also helps to reduce heat stress due to the high air permeability of the fabric. This allows the body to breathe and remain cool and comfortable,’ commented George. Purpose designed female firefighter turnout gear is also availablehaving been designed for female anatomy especially.

Carl continued: ‘After working with DuPont, Hainsworth and Bristol Uniforms we strongly believe that we now have the best turnout gear we have ever had. I have worn many different sets of turnout gear and I have seen many different types pass through our Fire House but I haven’t seen anything as good as, or better, than ours yet.’

George concluded: ‘Firefighters all over the world use Nomex turnout gear in some of the harshest environments thermal protective clothing has to withstand. Firefighters from Birmingham, Alabama to Birmingham, England face the same problems and require heat stress protection as well as performance.’