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Standards keeping firefighters safe with Esitone Pauga

When 42 different fire services merged in 2017, standards were crucial to ensure consistency and interoperability. Critically, they continue to play a role keeping firefighters safe. Esitone Pauga, Response Capability Advisory Manager, Commander with Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) explains.

Esitone Pauga with Fire and Emergency New Zealand

When it comes to supporting the fire and emergency sector, Standards are essential in two key areas:

  1. They help with fire protection in buildings ensuring that the fire safety systems in buildings such as sprinklers work, and fire crews can connect to the fire hydrants in high-rise buildings when conducting firefighting operations. These are the built environment standards such as NZS 4512 Fire detection and alarm systems in buildings and NZS 4510 Fire hydrant systems.
  2. They ensure quality and suitability of personal protection equipment (PPE) that firefighters wear and here is where Esitone’s work is focused.

A qualified fire engineer and firefighter, Esitone now works less in firefighting and more in helping shape policy and decision making through standards to protect his 14,000 colleagues on the frontline.

‘When Fire and Emergency New Zealand was formed from the merger of different regional services, we needed to make sure there was consistency and clear requirements across all the equipment and PPE. It was an interesting journey running the procurement process across thousands of fire brigades covering urban, rural and forest crew, paid and volunteer crews. However, as a new national organisation with one leadership structure, it made it more efficient and easier for decision-making, determining standard procedures and policies, and consultation work and procurement on uniform and equipment. We also need to have familiarity with equipment used by private contractors in other industries like ports and oil refineries.

Different firefighting, different needs

‘We largely use joint Australian and New Zealand standards, and here we develop our regional standards for good reason. While international standards can often provide the best solution, we can’t assume a requirement promoted internationally for example by our European counterparts will necessarily suit our firefighting environment.

‘One example is the performance requirement of material for firefighter protective clothing (PPC). Europeans prefer a lower testing temperature for protection for their firefighters. This generally means thinner material and lower performance criteria for firefighter protection. However, Australasia has always kept a higher testing temperature to ensure the material performance offers a higher level of protection for New Zealand and Australian firefighters. Currently all materials including the one that Europe uses pass the performance criteria that Australasia fire services use.

‘Similarly, New Zealand and Australia firefighting tactics are different from other countries, so the Joint Australia/New Zealand Standard for Firefighting PPE continues to maintain the high-performance testing to suit our tactics. For example, firefighting tactics differ from country to country and continent to continent. Some countries have very narrow streets where they can’t drive their fire engines, so they rely on firefighters to carry firefighting equipment long distances some 150m to 200m. For these firefighters lighter PPC and PPE and so the material need to be lighter. This means it requires a lower testing temperature. A lower testing temperature will reduce the performance requirement that New Zealand and Australia firefighters need.

‘So, while ordinarily adopting international standards can be beneficial, in this case we would end up with a standard where we unwittingly adopt ISO without looking at details. We are working on this by having a voice on international standards, helping provide influence to ensure the perspective of other countries with similar environments are considered so that the standard works for all.’

Collaboration across all to meet the end-users’ needs

‘When considering PPE standards, it’s not just those who wear and rely on the equipment who need to be involved in the discussion, it’s also manufacturers who source material and produce the items.

‘Also, testing organisations need to know what they are testing against. Designers need to know the properties of the material and the working environments and ergonomics of those wearing the kit. Unions get involved to advocate for firefighters’ welfare needs being met by the equipment they use. These multiple perspectives really support the benefits of the standards development process where each perspective contributes towards the whole and makes sure no important point of view is excluded from the conversation.

‘Sometimes fashion can get in the way, or sometimes the technology can, yet consensus means we’ve landed somewhere everyone can agree works for their distinct needs. It is important to always bring the discussion back to the protection of the end-user; they are the ones who use this in their daily response. At times this can get lost in the discussions.

Australasian and international committees

‘Others and I represent New Zealand at AFAC (the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council) who are the peak body for Australasian fire, land management and emergency services and help create synergy across the industry.

Throughout Australia each State has its own separate fire services so having an overarching organisations such as AFAC working across the standards brings needed consistency, not just across New Zealand and Australia but also across Australia’s six states.

‘I am involved with several standards committees that all have the same purpose; to provide a standard for firefighter PPE that is fit for purpose based on the activity they perform. I am deputy chair for the AFAC PPE Technical Committee (PPETC) and I represent AFAC (PPETC) on the Australia/New Zealand SF49 Australian and New Zealand Joint standards Committee for Firefighter PPE. This committee works with several other organisations on the review, development, and promotion of standards for PPE used across both countries, including ISO joint New Zealand/Australian standards. They also review ISO standards and collate comments from participating committee members and the public.

‘As the FENZ representative and NZSO member on SF49 I lead the New Zealand SF49 mirror committee. We review all Australia/New Zealand joint standards and ISO standards and send comments through to Australia/New Zealand SF49 joint standards committee and/or ISO depending on the standard being reviewed. I work closely with Standards New Zealand to collate comments from interested New Zealand parties and they coordinate our ballot vote to the Australia/New Zealand Joint Standards Committee.

‘The final one for me is the ISO Technical Committee (TC) 94 sub committees (SC) 13 and 14. Membership is at international level through country representation and includes those from France, Japan, United States, United Kingdom, Australia and Spain to name a few. However, most representatives are not necessarily firefighters themselves or the end user. Only five - the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland and United States - of the 42 plus members represent the firefighters’ voice.

‘Other countries’ representatives are from manufacturers’ interests, testing houses, government, and major international companies. I am the Convenor and Head of Delegation (HOD) for New Zealand for all ISO meetings of the ISO TC94 SC13 and SC14. I carry the national vote and convey New Zealand’s feedback. New Zealand’s ISO representation is still very small compared to countries like Japan (14), United States (6) and Australia (5); at most we’ll have two but we’re working on increasing our numbers attending. We at FENZ, work with New Zealand’s international standards team to get a NZSO (New Zealand Standards Organisation) comment and ballot for ISO firefighter standards.

Standards need to evolve with changing times

‘How important are standards? It’s extremely important we get them right. When I was firefighting, we had the silver coats and plastic helmets. The silver coat was designed to reflected heat but the material was very thin and the silver reflective part was stuck on the back of the material and you would have to replace your coat when the silver started to come off. I don’t know how much protection we had in those days, but we cannot use them today. Standards have really changed and vastly increased protection.

‘As standards and user needs evolve, we now look to the next challenges. We are currently looking at boots which need to be specialised for different firefighting purposes for example in buildings, for wildfires and for rescue during a motor vehicle accident.

‘Carcinogen particulates from burning material have become a key consideration for PPE and there has been much work over recent years looking into what would be the best protection for us to stop toxins coming through material. This is all subject to further research, but it shows the need for standards to be regularly revised to incorporate the latest knowledge. Firefighting is now considered as a carcinogenic occupation and standards are driven to do more to minimise firefighters’ exposure to carcinogenic particulates.

‘Standards are invisible but if they are not there, lives could be compromised. It’s not until something goes wrong that people take a closer look at the standards. You check the PPE against the standard. Is the PPE certified and compliant? So, we need to get standards right, get PPE right and certified then you have assurance that robustness is there throughout.’

Esitone’s work highlights how even those protecting others need protection themselves, and standards play a role in trying to ensure everyone can get home safe and well.