London calls in USAR kit


Published:  31 March, 2009

London Fire Brigade has taken delivery of 660 sets of specialist jackets and trousers for its 330-strong USAR team. Is this the beginning of a wider trend for more specialised rescue wear? F&Rvisits London.

The LFB’s USAR team now owns designated USAR kit, which enables the team to work more safely in technical rescue situations.

Prior to the latest kit, in common with firefighters the world over, London’s USAR-trained personnel wore conventional heavy-duty structural firefighting gear when attending USAR incidents.

The winds of change arrived with the New Dimension project, a national government-lead response to the 9/11 attacks, and which aimed to ensure the UK’s fire services could cope with major terrorist incidents.
Once funding was made available for the fire services that would be hosting specialist USAR teams under the New Dimension, the green light was given for each unit to procure the most appropriate USAR kit.

A competitive tendering process in line with guidelines was carried out. “We firstly did an in-house initial sifting process involving simple exercises like stretching and bending. Following that, we carried out a series of trials and exercises in the Dinas Training Centre (mine rescue) in Wales, to identify what was appropriate not only in USAR terms but also in terms of compatibility with all the other bits of kit,” explained Station Manager Phil Peartree, also part of the USAR management team.
In Wales, several teams of firefighters put the garments through their paces in a series of exercises replicating real USAR events.

The trial itself lasted five days, during which each team tested four different ensembles under similar weather conditions. “In devising a weighting method for the trial we had taken guidance from all the various departments, including central procurement, legal, R&D, and we had also taken into consideration the diversity of LFB and the different sizes of people.”

Following the rigorous trial, the winning kit was the ensemble supplied by Bristol Uniforms, comprising a Kermel high visibility orange fabric.
The contract for the supply of 660 sets of jackets and trousers also included a managed care aspect, under which Bristol regularly collects used garments for inspection, washing and repair, as well as decontamination (if required). A bar code and optical scanning system tracks each garment’s service history, building a complete record of management and inventory information for the LFB.

Allocation and usage

Peartree adds that because London’s USAR firefighters are also part of an FRU (Fire Rescue Unit), their default kit is still the structural firefighting one. “It is only when they mobilise to a known USAR incident that they are permitted to put on the USAR kit. When there is a USAR incident, a USAR advisor authorises on the appropriate level of PPE, but the default is always the structural. Both types of kit are available on the fire appliance and they put on what’s fit for purpose.”

  • Operation Florian

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