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TEXPORT: Rotterdam-Rijnmond Fire Brigade

At the end of 2013, the product quality that TEXPORT delivers won over yet another prestigious client in Europe: the Rotterdam-Rijnmond Fire Brigade (Rotterdam urban region). The order involves providing a total of approximately 2,600 suits. The toughest challenges in the tendering phase were seeing whether the suits could survive the extreme tests and vast range of mission specifications they would need to satisfy in practice.

ROTTERDAM. In 2013, the Fire Brigades in the urban region around Rotterdam invited tenders for new personal protective clothing. Decisions within the tender process were based on strict criteria defined as mandatory, Jan Bosch, Executive Member of the Tender Committee confirms: "Essentially we based the tender on what active deployment had taught us. The criteria were defined in close cooperation with active members of the Rotterdam Fire Brigade." The PPE would be called on in a variety of different mission situations. So the specified criteria were equally diverse, which proved particularly challenging: active-duty fire fighters wanted a suit that would offer comfort during technical missions yet still provide sufficient protection in extreme flashover situations (and above all afterwards). But the purse strings were a little tight to equip approximately 500 professional and 900 voluntary fire fighters with two suits each. So the defined tender criteria called for a suit that ensures comfort and breathability in passive and active, outside deployment without cutting corners in the need for maximum protection. Put technically, this means high HTI and RHTI values, combined with a low RET value. Protection in flashover situations and the longest possible retreat windows were defined as particularly crucial safety factors (HTI24-12, i.e. RHTI24-12).

The way the city is laid out necessitates long retreat windows

The range of missions that fire brigades are asked to handle is very broad. But the Rotterdam Fire Brigade is faced with geographical and cultural factors that make things even more complicated. Glancing at a map of the Netherlands is sufficient to show that the Fire Brigades will be confronted with a lot of water, both along the coast and inland. The urban structures are additional factors: strung-out, rural settlements further inland, with urban conurbations and large corporate complexes, ports and chemical or industrial companies hugging the coastline. There is another important factor in Rotterdam. And here we see why the retreat window is so important. The old town of Rotterdam was razed during the Second World War. Afterwards the city centre was modernized – the only Dutch city to experience this kind of redevelopment – and reconstructed almost exclusively using high-rise blocks. For fire fighters, this means that teams on the ground are forced to penetrate further and further into the buildings whenever a fire breaks out inside. So the retreat window must also factor in this time. Substances and chemicals used in the building and its furnishings are further aggravating aspects, thus heightening the risk of flashover. The committee planned to counter this hazard by using an extremely high insulation coefficient, i.e. an extended heat transfer time (high HTI, i.e. RHTI).

Defining specifications based on mission purposes

So the people in charge in Rotterdam set about moving from a very practical vision to a set of specifications, defined on paper. Aspects were added to EN469 to accommodate empirical values and the results of individualised tests and ultimately to produce the relevant standards in the invitation to tender. "We wanted practical necessity to define the clothing specifications. We were particularly concerned to specify values transferred to paper from practical experience, and not the other way round. The standards we produced in this way exceeded the scope of EN469, or added criteria we felt were important", says Jan Bosch. Product durability was another important criterion in the tender of the new PPE. The standards defined a service life of ten years, also a review of operational fitness of all suits after four to five years. The committee also stated that the strip markings, as the "most exposed elements" on the clothing, would be authoritative in terms of durability. Therefore, this aspect (beyond 'visibility' as defined in the standard) became an important element of the overall requirements. The committee decided on PBI® Matrix® as outer material, thanks to its break-open properties and enhanced durability. The jacket was also required to include an integral system for third-party rescue.

Chronology in the decision-making process

A three-stage decision-making process was conducted once the general specifications had been defined and sent to all bidders. The idea according to Jan Bosch was to keep the procedure as comprehensible as possible: "The three phases in the decision-making process were intended to guarantee transparent and objective management, in which each phase could mean the end of the road for a bidder. The initial situation had been clearly communicated to all bidders. Now it was important to identify the best possible product – on paper and in practice." The first stage involved comparing the written concepts for correspondence with the required criteria. The overall concept, including price, design, and methods for solving the required criteria, was crucial here, and not just the technical stats. Afterwards, a second stage involved putting the best entries through their paces in rigorous practical tests. The test phase consisted of two practical blocks: a 'cold test' and a 'hot test'. In both blocks, several active duty fire fighters were kitted out with the suits. They were asked to complete a series of mission situations, which each participant completed in a different sequence to improve comparability. The simulations in the cold test involved technical mission scenarios (active and passive), while the warm test consisted of active and passive fire fighting deployments inside and outside. Additionally, the clothing was tested for extreme resilience in a wet and dry state and in fire containers, exposing each of the clothing elements to a maximum temperature of 600 °C.

The final stage involved another review of the overall concept under consideration of the real test results; in this, the 'total cost of operation' (procurement costs, maintenance costs, repair, durability, etc.) represented an important criterion. Across the board, TEXPORT® proved convincing: TEXPORT edged in front with its patented X-TREME® compound in the specifications relating to breathability, wearing comfort, and thermal protection (in terms of direct flame exposure and radiant heat). The Triple Fabric® reflective strip by TEXPORT was just as faultless in satisfying the requirements defined for the strip materials. This quickly prompted the committee members to shortlist the suit for container and practical tests. Here again, the model scored full marks: "We decided to use Texport because the product was unreservedly convincing in terms of its concept, the quality of workmanship, and its test performance. The assessment of total operating costs, itself hardly inconsequential, actually made it an obvious choice", says Jan Bosch.

Contract awarded to TEXPORT thanks to its overall concept

The TEXPORT bid involved an adapted version of the Fire Drag Rescue jacket. An outer, eye-catching grab strap guarantees quick and easy access to the rescue system, even in tricky circumstances and poor visibility. The rescue strap is fully integrated in the upper-body part of the jacket. Running from the back and around the chest and arms, the system ensures comfortable use during rescues. The system's special design prevents the material from cutting in the armpit region when dragging or carrying the injured person out of the danger zone. PBI® Matrix® was used as outer fabric in both the jacket and the trousers. As material compound, the patented X-TREME satisfied all requirements placed in the suit. Highest insulation coefficients and extended retreat window while retaining the best possible breathability matched the precise criteria that the executive committee felt were crucial. The Fire Action Matrix model was adapted to suit the specific needs of the trousers. They also use X-TREME® and therefore provide the ideal material compound. TEXPORT highlights such as the textile Triple Fabric® reflective strips or the HPX-System® for fast and easy zipper repair were additional criteria in the decision, especially with regard to the total cost of operation and durability.

"It wasn't the committee that chose Texport as the winner; it was the decision-making process in itself." The objective and transparent design of the tender invitation effectively prevented any personal preferences encroaching on the decision-making process," says Jan Bosch. The speed with which the decision was made plainly indicates the structure and clarity of the specifications, as well as how well TEXPORT succeeded in satisfying the requirements: "Once we had received all test results, overall concepts, and final reports, it didn't even take half an hour to choose Texport as the winner," said Jan Bosch, looking back. "The differences in product quality were simply so striking that it didn't call for a lot of thought. Particularly the initial practical experience and the positive feedback from the people using the clothing day to day in active service confirm that we made the right decision, of course."

The first 1,900 sets were delivered to the Rotterdam Fire Brigade at the end of last year. The other 700 sets will be delivered by the middle of this year, fulfilling the total order volume. [https://www.texport.at]