Advice – Buying Bunker Gear (part 1)

As the former Canadian Regional Sales Manager for a major bunker gear manufacturer, I have too often seen FDs make the same purchasing mistakes over and over again.  Here, I would like to discuss a few of these errors and help you buy the gear you need and save money.

  1. KNOW YOURSELF!  Take a long, hard and honest look at the nature of the calls you run.  How many structure fires do you have in a year?  What are those fires like – industrial, residential? What is your REALISTIC response time to be on scene?  What is your default fireground strategy?
    If you run few structure fires, arrive on the scene 10 mins or more after the alarm is received with poor manpower and tend to adopt a defensive strategy, then your bunker gear needs are different than someone arriving sooner and adopting an offensive strategy.
  2. Management vs Members.  Many FDs will strike a committee to conduct research and receive presentations or wear trials.  While it is a GREAT idea to consult and involve the membership in the decision-making process, PLEASE try and get on the same page of thought with each other.  Far too often, these relationships are acrimonious and the process becomes a battle of wills and egos with the Bunker Gear Rep in the middle, trying to appease everyone.  This decision is about protecting the membership at a budgetary responsible dollar value.  PLEASE put personal relationships aside to get this right.
  3. Don’t get TOO caught up in the numbers game.  THL (Total Heat Loss) and TPP (Thermal Protective Performance) are measurements of how well a fabric combination (outer shell/moisture barrier/thermal liner) breaths and protects against heat.  While these values are valid concerns for the wearer, the numbers themselves are subjective as there is always some “acceptable” variance from lot to lot in the fabrics.  In turn, the companies (fabric manufacturers, fiber manufacturers, bunker gear manufacturers etc) submitting the fabric combination swatches for certification, will many times multi-submit from different lots of fabric to obtain the best certified TPP and THL values to suit their marketing desire.  So what you get, might not be the same values as certified.
    Also, after the initial wash of the garment, the fabric fibers will permanently expand.  This will reduce the THL (breathability) and increase the TPP (heat protection) anyway.  So again, please use the published numbers as a guideline only!
  4. Lastly, for this installment, ask to see the numbers!  There have been many innovations over the last 8 years in particulate blocking and the processing of body heat and perspiration vapour to help reduce heat stress.  BUT, are these innovations lab tested?  Is there data to back up the claims?  Or, are they just logical, anecdotal conclusions to the innovation supplied?

Bunker Gear is a vital piece of kit for the firefighter’s protection.  It may not be as exciting a tool as say auto-ex tools, but it is MORE vital to the wearer’s protection.  PLEASE give this decision the time and effort needed to buy correctly.

Ralph Briggs
Ralph Briggs

President, Tech Forward Fire Solutions Inc.

Ralph has the unique experience of having worn various generations of PPE as a Toronto Firefighter, working the PPE manufacturer’s side as a Canadian Regional Sales Manager at Innotex Inc., and selling Bunker Gear as a sales rep and business owner. He currently represents Viking PPE (https://www.viking-fireusa.com/en/nfpa_) here at Tech Forward Fire Solutions Ltd.