anaged services are a growing trend in the fire sector according to Bristol Uniforms, whose PPE users are increasingly choosing this option to ensure wearer safety and extended service life. Richard Storey of RSL Associates reports.
Since Bristol introduced its in-house garment maintenance programme for fire & rescue authorities in 2000, 82% of its PPE users now take advantage of these integrated, fully-featured managed services. Whilst a small number of fire & rescue authorities rely on locally provided or in-house facilities for washing their firefighter PPE, more than four out of five now recognise the cost and safety benefits of using a manufacturer provided service.
This ensures that PPE is washed using the special programmes needed to preserve fabric performance, and repaired to standards which maintain fully the protective qualities of the garments involved. All Bristol’s PPE users rely on them for their garment repairs.
Much has changed in the design and composition of firefighter PPE over the last ten years as new fabrics, composite design and manufacturing methods have combined to produce an all-round improved garment better tailored to meet the protective needs of the 21st century firefighter.
Increased product specialisation over the last five years, to fit the tasks involved, has seen the introduction of new wildfire and urban search and rescue (USAR) garments which are being adopted by an increasing number of fire & rescue services and which also need careful and specialised cleaning and repair to ensure wearer safety and extended service life.
Humberside FRS recently became the latest county brigade to deploy its new PBI™ outershell structural firefighting kit and is using Bristol’s managed service provision to ensure the regular inspection and maintenance of its 900 sets of PPE.
Humberside, in common with all Bristol’s users, benefit from a seven day turnaround managed service which includes inspection, decontamination (if required), washing, repair, condition coding and tracking – all of which provides management with easy access to a full service history. This, in turn, ensures that all the information needed to project replacement timeframes is available to inform the annual budgeting process and support steps being taken to meet tighter budget constraints.
Humberside’s Chief Fire Officer, Frank Duffield, says: “Bristol has been our supplier for a number of years during which time we have experienced a consistently high level of service in both the supply of PPE and managed service for our garments. Again, during the most recent tender process, Bristol was able to demonstrate the value of its technical capabilities and experience when it came to offering Humberside FRS the best overall package combining the performance requirements we need and the service levels essential to our round-the-clock operational preparedness.”
Philip Tasker, Bristol’s National Sales Manager, added, “During the tender period, we worked closely with the technical and procurement teams at Humberside to research and evaluate their specific performance requirements to arrive at exactly the right technical specification. The support which was provided throughout the evaluation process by our technical staff, helped to ensure that Humberside made their choice with all the necessary information at their disposal.
“Our managed service offering was a further contributory factor in our favour, as Humberside had been provided with rapid turnaround in collecting, washing and returning their kit during the East Yorkshire and Humberside flooding in the summer of 2007 which had allowed them to maintain a high level of response capability under severe pressure.”
Managed Services will continue to evolve in a variety of ways. These are likely to include the provision of new or adapted physical processes as well as enhanced IT functionality and the further extension of online capability for improved FRS stock management.
In addition to the quality of the garment maintenance processes used, another key factor in determining the effectiveness of the overall service is the ability to collect and return PPE to wherever it is required as efficiently as possible and on time. The continued rapid development of electronic communications and digital tracking using, for example GPS, may, in the future, add further sophistication to the systems already in place which could offer added value to the user as well as enhance the efficiency of stock management systems.
Finally, user feedback is a valued source of information as to how well the various components of the system are working and for looking at ways of improving service delivery and user benefits. The Integrated Clothing Project User Group forum is one example of how a collective view on the working of the system can be used, over time, to reshape it in response to changes in organisational and operational environments.