The new year marked a new era for two of the most respected and well-established brands in the firefighter PPE industry. MSA Safety, a global leader in the development, manufacture and supply of safety products that protect people and facility infrastructures, acquired leading innovator and provider of firefighter PPE, Bristol Uniforms. Roger Startin from the newly formed MSA Bristol, explains how the combined expertise of both companies will serve to enhance and strengthen its offering to fire and rescue customers around the world.
Although the news came as a surprise to many in the industry, it is testament to the excellent reputations of MSA Safety and Bristol Uniforms that the reaction to the acquisition, particularly amongst existing customers of both companies, has been hugely positive. The synergies between the two are immediately clear, and the benefits of the union are far-reaching.
Culturally, the companies are very well aligned. Formed more than 100 years ago in 1914, in the wake of a mining tragedy in West Virginia, MSA Safety began with the creation of the electric cap lamp to prevent mine explosions. Ever since, MSA Safety has enjoyed a long history of creating innovative products to improve workplace safety in a broad range of markets including the oil, gas and petrochemical industry, the construction industry, mining and the military, and in particular the fire service. Today, MSA’s core products include self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), firefighter helmets, gas and flame detection systems, portable gas detection instruments and fall protection devices which are sold around the world.
Bristol Uniforms has a history as a clothing manufacturer dating back to 1801, when a small retail clothier set up business near the docks in the city of Bristol, UK. The company diversified into creating public sector uniforms during the second world war, including tunics for the British air force. However, for the last 60 years, Bristol Uniforms has been a name synonymous with high-quality and innovative, specialist firefighter PPE. The company pioneered the first Nomex tunics for UK firefighters in the 1970s and has continued at the forefront of design and manufacture, supplying its innovative PPE to many fire and rescue services around the world today.
It is also evident that the products of MSA Safety and Bristol Uniforms are particularly complimentary. In fact, the companies already share many of the same customers, with MSA’s Gallet F1 XF helmets supplied alongside Bristol’s structural firefighting ensemble for the UK’s Central PPE and Clothing Contract, for example. In 2017, MSA Safety expanded its portfolio by acquiring US firefighter PPE leader Globe, for the first time offering customers in North America a complete top-to-toe PPE solution including helmets, SCBA, structural firefighting jackets and trousers and boots. The acquisition of Bristol Uniforms further enhances MSA’s reach into the global firefighting PPE market, providing opportunities to expand its top-to-toe offer internationally within key geographic markets.
As the chosen supplier for the UK-wide Local Authority Collaborative PPE Framework, Bristol Uniforms has a strong presence in the UK market, supplying 33 Fire and Rescue Services (FRS), comprising more than 33,500 firefighters, with essential structural firefighting PPE through the scheme, as well as providing in-house managed services from its two UK Service Centres. The Collaborative Framework range is based on Bristol’s popular XFlex design, which is favoured by FRSs across the globe due to its ergonomic design and distinctive sports styling. The spiral-cut seams follow the body’s curves and contours to offer superior mobility and flexibility, and the lightweight, breathable fabric combinations provide ultimate protection whilst keeping the firefighter cool and comfortable.
The shape, design and concept of the XFlex and Collaborative Framework PPE ranges fit particularly well with MSA’s groundbreaking M1 SCBA, which has recently been introduced to the UK market. Like Bristol Uniforms, MSA is at the forefront of innovations to optimise firefighter safety. The modular M1 SCBA system offers technological innovations such as a dedicated Entry Control Board for incident monitoring, the MSA HUB base station, and a fully integrated voice communication headset into the G1 mask. These are essential features to enable firefighters to communicate effectively and reliably with each other, and to enable close monitoring of each member of the team. The system is enabled for mass deployment of evacuation, firefighter-down, uncontrolled loss of pressure and personal alarms to name a few.
Also central to the design of the M1 SCBA has been the attention to detail ensuring that it is ergonomic and comfortable to wear, facilitating rather than hindering the demands of the job. The backplate has been designed to fit the natural shape of the back, and is adjustable to suit any size or shape, so that all firefighters feel the same comfortable and balanced fit. The unique padded S-shape harness prevents pressure points and slipping, and at less than 4kg it is the lightest SCBA with height adjustment on the market. The integrated hip belt means that most of the weight is distributed on the hips rather than the shoulders, avoiding strain on the back. The M1 has been tried and tested alongside Bristol’s XFlex and Collaborative Framework ranges, and together they provide a particularly ergonomic PPE combination, with the seams and shape of the jacket positioned to comfortably accommodate the SCBA harness.
Finally, just as Bristol Uniforms prioritises the cleaning and maintenance of its kit to ensure firefighter safety, MSA has specifically incorporated easy cleaning and maintenance into the design of its M1 SCBA. The breathing apparatus combines high-performance materials with functional design, making it easy to clean without disassembling the system.
Another MSA product which fits particularly well with Bristol’s ensembles is the iconic Gallet F1 XF firefighting helmet. First introduced to the market 35 years ago as the first ‘jet style’ helmet, variations of the Gallet helmet have been sold by Bristol Uniforms alongside their kit for many years, and it continues to be a popular choice amongst fire services around the world.
The latest model offers superior, unimpeded vision in all directions, and 360-degree head protection against heat and impact. Lighting and communications are integrated into the design with speakers near the ear for excellent quality radio communication. The Gallet F1 XF is functional and versatile in that it can be easily integrated with SCBA facepieces and fits well with Bristol’s protective hoods and jackets. Like the M1 SCBA, it can be easily disassembled for washing.
It’s worth noting that the acquisition has come at a particularly exciting time for Bristol Uniforms. December saw the launch of its brand new state-of-the-art structural firefighting range, EOS, which offers advanced protection to combat the new and emerging risks faced by modern day firefighters.
An evolution of the XFlex range, the new EOS style is sleek, modern and ultra-flexible, enabling even better manoeuvrability and superior particulate protection. Featuring a distinctive reflective taping called HEX-TT, the outer layer is significantly more supple and flexible, and easier to repair than previous designs. The simpler style on the front of the jacket, free from pockets or unnecessary features where particles can accumulate, helps to avoid the build-up of toxic smoke particles in vulnerable areas. Instead, storm pockets are situated at the back of the jacket which typically receives less smoke exposure. Particle-blocking wrist cuffs, and optional particle-blocking skirt around the torso and wind cuffs around the ankles, offer additional protection. EOS is also hard-wearing and even longer-lasting, crucially able to withstand frequent washing and tumble drying. Suitable for international markets, it has been designed to meet the requirements of the CEN standard EN469 Level 2, NFPA standard NFPA 1971:2018, and the Australian standard AS 4967: 2019. And like the XFlex and Collaborative Framework ranges, EOS is particularly compatible with the MSA M1 SCBA and the Gallet F1 XF.
It’s evident that by bringing together two trusted brands, which share a similar vision and ethos and offer complimentary products, MSA Bristol has secured a bright future in the global firefighter PPE industry. We are excited to be offering our customers a simplified purchasing and procurement process with one point of contact for quality, head-to-toe protection they can trust. With such a wealth of experience and expertise on board, we are determined to continue to lead and innovate, as true pioneers in this field.
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