For decades, a multi-functional integrated garment system for firefighters was only a dream, wishing to avoid the convoluted system of multiple assemblies for different emergencies.
The pioneering Florian system by APT Fabrics has redesigned the core fabric through years of research and specialised insights, succeeding in its integration for an all-in-one firefighter suit that guarantees lifesaving protection from extreme heat and flames, whilst being breathable, lightweight, and flexible.
Protecting frontline firefighters from diverse dangers
Firefighting transcends fighting fires. Firefighters respond to a wide range of accidents and other incidents where there are risks to life and property, including car crashes, chemical spills, flooding, and water rescue.
Due to the nature of firefighting, the kit needs to meet several protective demands, beginning with thermal protection, flame retardancy, and chemical resistance. The outer fabric must be durable, abrasion-resistant, and anti-static, whilst the moisture and thermal barriers need to be highly waterproof, breathable, and permeable for water vapour and have hygroscopic properties.
The diversity of firefighting operations requires a wide range of specialised outer garments: structural suits for burning buildings, rescue suits for technical rescues, and wildland suits for fires in the natural environment. A firefighter’s garment collection will also include station wear, the tailored uniform worn by firefighters day-to-day in the station.
The innovation in the Florian system is in the development of technical fabrics and garments, which integrates into an all-in-one solution for structural, technical rescue, and wildland fire suits.
Structural firefighting kit protects against extreme heat conditions
Structural firefighting kits are used in tackling fires on the structural components of residential, commercial, and industrial buildings. From the firefighter’s point of view, this garment tends to be the heaviest as it needs to withstand the extreme heat encountered in such operations. The structural firefighting kit is the most expensive suit of the three but is only used in 6% of operations.
Structural firefighting garments must conform to the EN469:2020 standard, which sets the minimum performance requirements for protective clothing designed to be worn during firefighting activities.
EN469:2020 is a new evolution of the 2005 standard, with the main change being that the thermal performance of the garment assembly must be tested to exceed the minimum thermal standards in the as-received state as well as after 5 wash-and-dry cycles.
This minor change in the standard created major issues for lightweight assemblies, as in a few cases the assembly in some current suits could potentially fail the new thermal requirements, despite no evidence of burn injuries for firefighters during practical use.
Technical rescue firefighting garments handle diverse risks
Technical rescue garments are used for situations that require additional equipment or training including water rescue and rope rescue, in conditions such as traffic accidents, collapsed buildings, natural disasters, and more.
Protection against mechanical risks, limited heat, and flame, plus breathability and conspicuity (high visibility) is required for the garments to meet the EN16689:2017 standard, which does not include cover protection for hands, feet, or the head.
Wildland firefighting clothing defends against natural landscape blazes
Wildland firefighting kits are used by firefighters in the suppression of fires in natural lands and prevention of future fires across diverse terrains, potentially operating for extended periods of time. Wildland firefighting garments must conform to the EN ISO 15384:2020 (ISO16073-3-2019) standards, setting performance requirements for protective clothing, which includes hand and arm protection, plus lifejackets.
Robust protective clothing can cause discomfort to firefighters
The collection of firefighters’ clothing must be robust and durable to meet industry standards and protect the wearer in hazardous environments. However, to meet these requirements, the garments can feel hot and uncomfortable to wear when in operation. The consequences of this can cause firefighters to suffer from heat stress, which is where the body is unable to cool itself enough to maintain a healthy temperature, potentially leading to heat stroke, heat exhaustion, cramps, or heat rashes.
The Fire Brigades Union in the UK reported that all firefighters are exposed to extreme heat with an average of 1 to 2 incidents per month. For those involved in training, exposure is far more frequent, increasing the risk of heat-related illness. Instructors face extreme heat 10 times a month on average, but this number can be as high as 27. Trainee firefighters can be exposed up to 5 times each week.
Whilst a set of advised actions by organisations such as the Fire Brigade Union can help firefighters to mitigate against heat stress, including pre-cooling before heat exposure, innovations in fabric and garment technologies for breathability and weight reduction in the development of fire suits could be an integral defense for firefighters against heat stress.
APT Fabrics is transforming how fire suits are designed
Stanley Russell, Director of APT Fabrics is a multiple award-winning specialist in the development of cutting-edge lightweight, breathable, moisture-wicking, and high-performance firefighter assemblies, and has created the revolutionary Florian textile technology and fire assembly.
As a fellow of the Textiles Institute who is ingrained within the firefighting and textiles industry, Stanley Russell drew upon his network of experts and frontline firefighters for wearer trials to fully understand the needs and challenges they faced on the job – in relation to their current kit three common feedback points reported by Firefighters were that their kit was uncomfortable, heavy, and hot.
Firefighter suits are not just uncomfortable to wear. Having three separate suits for different scenarios is complicated, cumbersome, and resource inefficient. Using multiple heavy garments in the current antiquated system can equate to a loss of precious time in responding, potentially making the difference between life and death.
The Florian technology is revolutionising the fire suit
The Florian system is set to be transformational for fire brigades around the world, creating an integrated, multi-functional, multi-standard layering system, which meets the needs of structural suits, rescue suits, and technical rescue suits all-in-one, whilst meeting all the associated industry standards.
The innovative new system developed by APT Fabrics has succeeded in its mission to deliver thermal protection for firefighters, whilst improving breathability, moisture management, and comfort. To deliver this radical new solution for firefighter suits, APT Fabrics developed a new high-performance core fabric layer that is durable, flexible, and lightweight.
Renowned for thinking outside of the box, Stanley Russell’s new Florian technology is ground-breaking – reinventing the design for a next-generation moisture-thermal barrier for the fire industry, not having progressed with significance for the last 10 years.
Designing the heart of the Florian system with advanced technologies
The first stage of the development process involved creating the heart of the Florian system, which is the state-of-the-art moisture-thermal barrier.
In collaboration with ALPEX®, a French laminated textiles solution company dedicated to developing the technologies of tomorrow, APT Fabrics underwent a rigorous process of creating a multitude of prototypes until deciding on a finished and tested product that was extremely breathable and fire-retardant with a strong thermal performance.
Conspicuous protection that withstands high-temperature blazes
The next stage of the concept creation was to develop an outer fabric that would meet the performance criteria of EN469 and ISO 16689. This requires thermal protection tested to ensure the clothing fabric or assembly can encounter a surface of 260°C and last longer than 10 seconds before the temperature inside rises by 10°C, and that the sewing threads are proven to withstand the heat of 260°C without melting.
APT Fabrics sourced an unbranded meta-aramid/para-aramid fabric with preprepared test reports to certify that it met the required physical parameters, whilst opting for a red colour to deliver on the conspicuity consideration – the colour recently introduced in fire garments for both France and Scandinavia.
Testing the combination of ground-breaking fabric technologies
After combining the outer fabric with the newly developed membrane, tests showed that the breathability of the assembly has a Ret value <10, meaning that the resistance to evaporative heat loss meets the EN16689:2017 standard for technical rescue fire suits and EN ISO 15384:2020 (ISO16073-3-2019) standard for wildland suits with a combined weight of 390g m2.
To achieve the desired outcome of developing an integrated, multi-functional, multi-standard layering system – the new Florian system – APT Fabrics went through an adjustment process to also meet the standard for structural fire suits.
The Florian system meets the standard of today and the future
Meeting current and future needs required testing the Florian assembly to the new EN469:2020 standard in conjunction with fire-retardant station wear. Whilst the UK – unlike other countries – does not currently use flame-retardant station wear, a new international standard ISO21942 will be introduced in the near future, which will likely necessitate a change in procurement in the UK for flame-retardant station wear.
To cover all potential station wear and garment combinations, APT Fabrics sourced flame-retardant shirting material, pique fabrics, single jersey, and trouser materials that met the new – and upcoming in the UK – ISO21942 standard to create a collection to be integrated into the multi-functional Florian fire assembly.
Working with BTTG, the leading independent organisation for testing and certification of personal protective equipment, APT fabrics tested a selection of knitted and woven fabrics utilised in the manufacture of flame-retardant tops and trousers, some of which could pass the wildland standard on their own, and in combination with the 2-layer assembly, was tested to meet the thermal property requirements of EN469:2020 in the as-received state and after 5 wash-and-dry cycles.
Expert garment analysis refined the pioneering Florian fire assembly
Presenting the test results and garment design to a team of fire industry experts for evaluation, a potential issue was pointed out that if a firefighter was wearing a short-sleeve station shirt, they could lack protection. This was resolved with the introduction of a flame-retardant, lightweight lining into the sleeves of the 2-layer garment creating a 3-layer assembly that when tested exceeded the requirements of the En469:2020 standard.
The next challenge surrounded the difference between full-time firefighters and retained firefighters, as the retained would unlikely be wearing tested flame-retardant station wear.
The agreed-upon solution would be to create a secondary Florian fire assembly that utilised the lightweight flame-retardant lining used in the sleeves of the main assembly throughout the Fire suit to give full protection – this was to be identified by using a gold-colored version of the outer fabric in the garment construction, solely dedicated for use by retained firefighters or those not in the Fire-retardant station wear.
After the consultation process, the innovative, multi-functional and integrated Florian 3-layer fire assembly passed the testing to the EN469:2020 standard. APT Fabrics has delivered a highly durable, flame-retardant Florian fire assembly that is breathable, lightweight, and flexible.
A new all-in-one solution benefits the fire brigades and the firefighters
Not only is the innovative Florian fire assembly set to be more comfortable for firefighters due to its enhanced breathability, flexibility, and its lighter weight than comparative products, it can simplify the procurement for fire services.
Instead of purchasing multiple fire assemblies, fire services can consolidate with the Florian all-in-one. The structural suit is the most expensive on the market and yet is only used in 6% of operations, which is not an efficient use of resources and public funds. The Florian system has the potential to streamline fire service procurement, simplify operations, and reduce costs.
Integration of garments can reduce environmental impact
The technological breakthrough in fabric and garment innovation by APT Fabrics can also help to reduce textiles consumption in the fire industry, helping to reduce carbon emissions and textile waste.
The performance requirements of fire suits require materials with large environmental impacts such as meta-aramids and para-aramids, and fire suits use are subject to contamination from carcinogens and toxic chemicals, meaning they are difficult to recycle, meaning it is likely to go to landfills or incineration.
Florian will be the holy grail of firefighting assemblies
After succeeding in creating a working garment concept, a variant of the Florian system was presented by FlamePro at the Interschutz exhibition in Hannover in June 2022.
Stanley Russell shows his gratitude to people and companies including Ian Moses, Scotfire Safety Solutions; John Cairns and Roddy Mackinnon, Scottish Fire and Rescue Services; Simon Anderson, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service; Brett Egan, Kent Fire and Rescue Service; ALPEX®, SOFILETA, FlamePro, members of the Welsh Fire and Rescue and Northern Ireland Fire and rescue for the technical input and advice received. I also need to give a big shout-out to the lady I consider to be the best designer of Fire kits in Europe Lorraine Costello, she really brings my ideas to life
Florian is set to be the holy grail of firefighter assemblies all around the world, and because of the highly protective, highly specialised nature of this innovative system, it is named after the patron saint of firefighters, St Florian.
This article is republished from Stanley Russell on LinkedIn under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.