Two Hundred Years of PPE

Firefighter PPE has changed dramatically over the last 200 years. The first uniforms offered little in the way of protection. 200 years ago firefighting was a competitive business run by competing insurance companies, the firefighting uniform was simply designed to distinguish themselves from the competition. Even up to the last 60 years basic materials were used to help protect firefighters, wool, rubber, leather and cork were used extensively for uniforms.

1818 - 200 years ago, firefighters dressed in flamboyant brightly coloured uniforms with a large metal badge on their arm bearing the company motif.

1860 - Londons Firefighters wore blue swollen double breasted serge tunics and trousers with a brass or silver helmet. Each tunic featured a number representing a firefighters rank.

1930’s - Firefighter uniforms were developing and becoming more protective. Rubber leggings replaced woolen trousers which became very heavy when wet. The new black leggings kept the firemen dry and were much lighter than wool.

1960’s - Bristol uniforms created the first aluminised suits for firefighters which were based around buoyancy suits developed for pilots during the war. New specialist materials were starting to come onto the market, in 1961 PBI fibre created PBI performance products offering outstanding heat and flame protection which was later used by NASA.

1970’s - Black rubber leggings are replaced by PVC leggings which help with visibility in smoke filled rooms. They were worn with black woollen tunics with brass buttons and yellow cork helmets. Bristol developed a new tunic which incorporated a serge material to help keep firefighters dry for the first time.

1978 - Bristol worked closely with the Home Office to introduce a Nomex outer shell short tunic which was worn with yellow PVC wet legs.

1980’s - Gore launched GORE-TEX moisture barrier which today carries the CROSSTECH brand. The first bunker style jacket was launched, it featured a NOMEX outer shell and was styled for additional comfort.

1990’s - In the early 1990’s PVC wet legs were phased out. Bristol worked closely with brigades across the south coast to develop a common style - the first collaboration of its kind. Male and Female sizes were introduced. In 1995 EN469:1995 the first European standard for firefighter protective clothing was introduced.

2000’s - Strides in technology were being made, Hainsworth introduced TITAN a fabric using TI-Technology which optimised protection against heat and flame. In 2003 ground breaking physiological trials took place on behalf of Bristol to determine the impact of different PPE designs on heat stress. Following these trials Ergotech and Ergotech Action were launched a new generation lightweight PPE.

Dupont introduce the NOMEX NanoFlex specifically designed to prevent exposure to harmful smoke particles. Bristol take PPE designs a step further by introducing a new layered approach LayerFlexTM comprising of three garments when used in different combinations provides different levels of protection depending on the task at hand. 2017 Bristol develop a particulate protection hood featuring NOMEX NanoFlex to protect firefighters vulnerable neck and jaw area.


Featuring original information taken from Bristols blog post which you can see here: 

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