Challenges Facing Firefighters At Sea

Fighting fires anywhere presents firefighters with a level of unpredictability but as Paul Gibson, International Sales Manager, Bristol Uniforms explains, at sea, the level
of unpredictability is substantially greater.

Every fire is different with the risks and hazards very much dependent on a range of factors including the type of fire, ease of access, weather conditions, light levels, surrounding environment and proximity of nearby hazards. At sea, with the condition of the sea itself a major factor coupled to the fact that, even around inshore waters, the ability of fire crews to operate effectively very much depends on the resources available to them at the scene of the fire. Back-up may be either many hours away or even non-existent within the timeframe needed to rescue lives and extinguish the fire and save a vessel.

All vessels, including fixed or floating platforms at sea, are required by international marine regulations to have on-board firefighting facilities appropriate to the potential nature and scale of any fire which might occur. These requirements include the need to have trained firefighters, and suitably protected, and available to use the on-board firefighting equipment.

International marine safety regulations provide the framework within which firefighter safety and personal protection is prescribed and requires protective equipment to meet the standards laid down, and tested, by marine organisations, such as Mariners Wheel, who test and certify equipment with the internationally recognised Wheelmark Certification. Their specialist knowledge and experience helps suppliers of such equipment to manufacture to performance standards deemed vital for firefighter protection in marine environments.

New requirements for certification of protective clothing for firefighting under the Marine Equipment Directive (MarED) were introduced in 2011. Amendments to the directive (96/98/EC) now include the established EN 469:2005 as the standard against which basic marine firefighting PPE can be used for certification. The standards for close proximity PPE are EN 1486 and ISO 15538, for boots EN 15090, gloves EN 659 and helmets EN 443.

A relatively recent international standard, ISO 22488:2011, is also available for shipboard firefighter outfits. This standard covers PPE suitable for fighting small to medium magnitude fires, prior to the operation of any installed fixed firefighting systems, which is not intended, or suitable, for entry into flames.

Marine firefighter protective clothing is designed to provide wearer protection from external hazards whilst minimising the potential health risks associated with internally generated heat stress. Testing for compliance with EN 469:2005, which is carried out independently, covers heat transfer of flame and radiation, resistance to liquid chemicals and water vapour resistance.

At Bristol Uniforms, where internationally recognised fleet suits for on-board marine firefighter use have been manufactured for over 50 years, the basic design parameters need to take into account the impact on the wearer, over a long period of use, in relation to protective performance, manoeuvrability and heat stress. While the wearer must be protected from the external environment, stresses on the body must be minimised. That means selecting fabric, fibre and design to create use-specific PPE and adopting leading edge fabrics which result from developments in technology. Performance improvement linked to wearer comfort and safety continue to drive new product developments.

Bristol recently introduced a new head-to-toe integrated range of Fleet Suits in which special attention has been paid to the high level of compatibility of the individual garments, a key factor in determining the operational level of wearer protection. The coat and trouser are available in two options, meeting either Level 1 or Level 2 of the EN 469:2005 standard. Both options retain the traditional yellow outer layer. The Level 1 garments are two-layer constructions using an inner layer aramid thermal barrier quilted to a flame retardant cotton lining. The Level 2 garments are three-layer composites which additionally incorporate a flame-retardant moisture barrier.

The compatible accessories, all certified to the relevant standards, include a yellow flame-resistant, high temperature copolymer plastic helmet incorporating a polycarbonate anti-scratch and anti-fog visor, blue heat-resistant leather gloves with knitted wristlet and aramid lining and a vulcanised rubber boot, incorporating a steel toe cap and mid sole.