We would like to introduce you to a manufacturer that in recent years has become the leading provider of modern, high-end fire service protective clothing in the German-speaking countries of Europe and is now garnering plenty of attention well beyond Europe’s borders. The brand is called S-GARD and they are based in Germany. It was only recently that S-GARD won a closely considered contract for fire protection suits in Kuwait.
S-GARD is a registered trademark of Hubert Schmitz GmbH. 50 employees manage the entire product development and material purchasing processes at the Heinsberg, Germany, location as well as oversee production and quality control efforts. S-GARD products are distinguished by high-quality materials and workmanship, innovative features and superb comfort in the field. In addition to the development and manufacture of protective clothing, S-GARD also offers education and training for fire service personnel, an in-house repair service as well as seminars for handling, cleaning and maintaining its protective clothing. S-GARD is a member of the Fair Wear Foundation and holds social and ecological aspects in high regard in both its production facilities and at its suppliers.
130 years of experience in the manufacture of special fabrics
The family-owned business was founded in 1887 as a weaving mill for special fabrics. Bruno Schmitz, who runs the company with his brother Hubert in the fourth generation, explains how the business has changed in the 130 years since its founding:
“In the early years, our great grandfather Hubert Schmitz produced heavy linen fabrics for covered wagons and windmills. Around 1899/1900 he put the first electric looms into operation. Instead of working with flax, the operation began working primarily with cotton to make things like towels and bed sheets. In the 1950s, our father was the first to begin producing protective clothing, initially for coal miners and steel workers. Starting in the 1980s, the idea of protective clothing had gained traction and Hubert Schmitz GmbH began manufacturing safety clothing for road construction workers, among other fields.
With the introduction of a standardized fire services protection ordinance in Germany, which set more stringent requirements for safety and protective functionality in clothing, we began developing and producing our own protective clothing for fire brigades at the end of the 1990s. Since 2008, Hubert Schmitz GmbH has been fully focused on its collection of highly functional protective clothing. In addition to firefighting suits, our S-GARD brand now also develops and produces clothing for other areas of application such as high-visibility gear, height rescue, general rescue services and technical assistance. The quality, practicality and technical functionality of our products were of particular importance to us from the very beginning. Our goal was to always remain on the technological cutting edge with our products, to identify and test new safety requirements and technologies, and to integrate all of that into our protective clothing. This is how we got to where we are now.”
Continual research and development
S-GARD continuously invests in the ongoing development of its products, and in doing so works closely with experienced firefighting professionals, with textiles and clothing experts, and with leading manufacturers such as GORE, DuPont™, 3M and Hainsworth. The company also works with standards committees and research projects, for example with the Fraunhofer Institute, to continue developing general protection and quality standards. S-GARD has earned the “Innovative through research” seal three times for its research activities, an award given by the Stifterverband for German Science, an initiative to promote improvements in the fields of education, science and innovation.
S-GARD is currently working on a streamlined suit specially designed for ship firefighting that is adorned with customized sensors for positioning and communication when fighting fire on ocean-going vessels. The suit is part of the research project “EFAS”, a system designed to help fire services on ocean-going vessels that is part of an overarching safety research programme sponsored by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. In conjunction with a number of research institutes and companies, S-GARD is developing a rescue system that optimises the safety, efficiency and effectiveness of fire services teams when fighting fire on ships.
Ocean-going vessels present a particular set of challenges for task forces: Access to the source of the fire is usually only possible from above. It’s like trying to fight a normal house fire by going in through the chimney. Thick steel walls also prevent radio transmission, so it is nearly impossible to locate personnel or maintain contact between members of firefighting teams. Operations controllers thus often find it difficult to get an overview of the situation inside a ship. Narrow bulkheads and passages also hinder a rescue team’s forward progress. To maintain contact with the various members of the rescue unit, and in emergencies to deploy further assistance, special sensors will be integrated into the protective clothing in the future. The sensors collect temperature data, measure harmful gas levels and display where teams are currently located. For its part, S-GARD is an implementation partner in the research project, responsible for integrating the technology into fire protection clothing.
Bruno Schmitz talks about it: “The collaboration work on this research project is being done thanks to our in-house sample sewing department. At the beginning of the project, they had been looking for a manufacturer with its own sewing operation. We produce in Eastern Europe and in Tunisia, where we have our own company, but the development, sample sewing, material purchasing and logistics are all managed by the highly qualified and experienced colleagues at our facility in Germany. All new models are developed and thoroughly tested here before they go to series production. To do that, you have to know that a firefighting suit consists of hundreds of individual parts that all have to fit perfectly together.”
Technical innovation for the best possible protection
The S-GARD brand stands for high quality and technical innovation around the globe. As one of the first manufacturers in Europe to do so, S-GARD began producing protective firefighting clothing with the innovative Gore® Parallon™ system back in 2017. With its double membrane, the material is considered the most effective special fabric for protective firefighting clothing on the market. S-GARD uses the high-tech material in its Ultimate Series. The special thing about the material is that its thermal insulation layer is perfectly protected between two Goretex® moisture protection membranes. On the one hand, the unique material construction prevents moisture from entering the suit, for example from extinguishing water or rain. On the other hand, sweat and water vapors are wicked away from the skin and through the material to the outside without getting the insulation layer wet. This keeps the inside of the protective clothing dry even given extreme exertion. Heat from outside is therefore only very slowly able to reach your body. The Ultimate Series with Gore® Parallon™ was developed for extreme conditions and really shows its strengths when used in firefighting situations and when combined with breathing apparatuses for interior deployments. The Ultimate protective clothing line is also particularly breathable and provides maximum freedom of movement.
S-GARD turnout gear protects you from soot particles
A further innovation that S-GARD – as one of the first in Europe to do so – presented to the industry at large is a protective suit and an innovative flame protection helmet featuring the Nomex® Nano Flex technology. The lightweight yet thick, functional material from DuPont is extremely heat- and flame-resistant, highly elastic and breathable. The new, lightweight Dynamate Protective Suit uses the material to seal openings in the clothing against particles. As such, the openings on the neck, cuffs, waistband and legs are equipped with elastic bands or a skirt made of the special material. That band now prevents smoke gas particles from penetrating the suit and getting onto your skin.
The Nano flame protection hood replaces the conventional flame protection hood, which is insufficient in protecting you from soot particles. The hood protects your entire head and neck area. The extremely heat- and flame-resistant Nomex fire protection material is not only better at guarding against heat and burns, but also now prevents soot particles from penetrating the helmet. The material is light, flexible and breathable, offering superb comfort when on a deployment. The successful integration of the material into its firefighting protective clothing earned S-GARD the DuPont™ Nomex® Innovation Award in 2017.
S-GARD Safetytour – modern firefighting training
In addition to research and development, the company is also involved in training firefighters. The training and advanced training seminars and workshops for teams and senior officers at fire departments are referred to under the name “Safetytour” and have been an integral component in firefighting training in Germany for many years now.
The events, which can be booked by fire departments, address current topics for firefighting, rescue services and technical assistance. The units are led by experienced trainers and because of their timely relevance and modern methods, they enjoy an excellent reputation.
Once a year, S-GARD holds a team event with the best training units from the current Safetytour programme. The international “Best of” event takes place in different locations in Germany and, in addition to an obstacle course with stations where teams have to solve a variety of firefighting-related tasks, there are also workshops and seminars focused on current training and advanced training topics.
Bruno Schmitz summarizes the significance of these activities for the company’s product development efforts as follows: “The work we do with the industry in our research projects, along with the constant exchange of practical experiences with fire department personnel in our workshops and seminars is absolutely invaluable to us. It not only gets us involved very early on in the latest technical developments, but we also get to experience first-hand what these people need on location in actual firefighting situations. Both of those things help us to think outside the box and to keep pushing innovation and progress when developing our protective clothing.”
For more information, go to www.s-gard.com