It is just over a year since firefighters at Birmingham Airport moved over to new, industry-leading protective clothing. This followed the decision to award a five-year contract to Bristol Uniforms to provide the fire service with its XFlex structural fire kit which includes TITAN 1260 fabric, a Hainsworth® Technology outershell.
John McCorry, Head of Fire and Emergency Planning at Birmingham Airport, said: “Firefighters are more aware of the kit they wear than ever before. If they weren’t happy, they would let me know but I can honestly say there have been no issues since the new kit was introduced just over a year ago.”
John explained: “When I started out over 20 years ago, fire kit was extremely heavy and bulky, but since then there has been an enormous amount of Research and Development done to produce today’s clothing which is far lighter and doesn’t physically drain you.”
Birmingham Airport firefighter Owen Cameron, who played a key part in the tender process, said: “The ergonomics of the new kit are excellent allowing full movement and flexibility. It is more bespoke and fitted with garments that are fully contoured to the body. Every item of clothing has been designed to work together. The advantages of Bristol/Hainsworth were apparent straightaway.”
The decision to award the contract to Bristol followed an extensive procurement process and trial period during which various firefighter PPE options were subject to a range of rigorous tests.
Each firefighter was individually measured to ensure that their garments fitted exactly to ensure maximum comfort and protection. This process was carried out across all kit including flashoods, helmets, boots and gloves.
The contract includes responsibility for fully maintaining all garments including washing, repairing and, when required, decontamination. At the end of the five-year period, ownership of the kit will pass to BHX Fire & Rescue Ltd, which provides fire cover for the airport.
The kit procurement forms an important aspect of the overall Birmingham Airport firefighting strategy.
The airport, which saw its first flight in May 1939, has recently recorded a couple of significant milestones. On August 13th, almost 40,000 passengers passed through the airport in just 24 hours – a one per cent increase on the previous busiest day in August 2005. Meanwhile, latest figures show that over 10million passengers used the airport in the previous 12 months, another record.
The airport serves more than 140 direct scheduled and chartered routes as well as an additional 280 possible connections worldwide. Around 50 different airlines now operate out of the airport.
The changing role of firefighters means the four watches at Birmingham Airport have never been busier. Last year, they dealt with 240 call-outs and they had almost matched that number after just eight months of this year.
Around half of all calls are now medical-related, a number which is likely to grow. Birmingham Airport has just signed a memorandum of understanding with West Midlands Ambulance Service (WMAS). Firefighters will respond to airside locations as part of a co-responder scheme. The scheme will benefit WMAS in effectively having a resource on site. Firefighters have also benefited from newly acquired skill sets delivered by WMAS. Ultimately, the wider travelling public and airport community will also benefit.
John McCorry said: “Interoperability is the key today, working closely with our colleagues at the airport and partners such as the ambulance, fire and police services. With 112,000 air traffic movements a year we have to be ready for potentially big incidents.”
When they are not responding to incidents, the 50-strong team have a multitude of other tasks to perform including the regular testing of more than 900 individual pieces of kit. They are also running an increasing number of courses including fire training and First Aid, for cabin crews and a range of external commercial customers.
The emphasis on best practice in everything they do is further highlighted by the five state-of-the-art Oshkosh Striker firefighting vehicles that are transforming the way airports tackle fires. Birmingham became the first UK airport to take delivery of the vehicles, which are not only the most advanced firefighting truck but also environmentally friendly.
Three of the vehicles have extended boom technology, called Snozzles, which can penetrate an aircraft fuselage in the event of an aircraft incident, allowing direct close range access to an on-board fire. The movement of the Snozzle is computer controlled from inside the Striker cab using a joystick with cameras providing detailed imagery from the Snozzle. Each appliance is equipped with hydrochem fire nozzles that can discharge water and dry powder simultaneously.
John McCorry said: “Everything we do is about working as smartly, effectively and efficiently as possible.
“This joined-up approach can be seen in every decision we make as a fire service. We believe we have the best training programme, regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority, the best firefighting vehicles and the best kit for our firefighters to wear.”
Simon Burnett-Boothroyd, Sales and Innovation Executive for Hainsworth Technology, said: “Birmingham Airport is a shining example of best practice in UK firefighting across everything they do. During the last couple of years we have had the pleasure of watching how they go about their business. We are delighted they selected Bristol and Hainsworth as their PPE partners after a rigorous selection process and equally pleased with how the kit has performed during the past 12 months.”