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Collaborative Project Delivers Stronger Fire Service Alignment in Thames Valley

All firefighters across Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire are now using the same breathing apparatus sets and associated equipment, when responding to emergency incidents tackling fires or entering other hazardous environments.

Alignment between the three fire and rescue services of the Thames Valley (TV) is stronger following the successful delivery of a £1.7m collaborative project.

Running over three years, the TV Breathing Apparatus (BA) Project has delivered one of the most significant combined investments to date in the fire and rescue services’ most valuable asset, its people.

The tri-service BA roll out forms part of an aligned commitment to ensure TV firefighters have the best equipment to enable them to provide the best response to our communities.

The Project has involved operational and support staff from across the three services, including procurement, training, fleet, health and safety, policy and equipment teams, as well as the firefighters themselves.

It has now successfully delivered more than 4,000 items of new firefighting equipment to firefighters operating out of the 60 fire stations across Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire.

Since the sets arrived on stations, they have been worn multiple times, at a range of incidents including domestic, commercial and vehicle fires, and suspected gas and carbon monoxide leaks.

Rob Read, Group Manager for Research and Equipment, said: “It is essential that our firefighters are well equipped when facing the wide range of scenarios they may experience when responding to incidents. Any firefighter will tell you how important breathing apparatus sets are – so we made it a priority to bring in new equipment with the latest technology to enable them to continue to safely respond to the public in their time of need.

“The launch of the new BA sets on our appliances is the culmination of many months of hard work by so many members of staff, who should all be congratulated for helping to efficiently deliver such a complex programme of work.”

Firefighters from Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire wearing breathing apparatus

Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service Station Commander Dave Tubbs, Project lead, said: “These new sets, manufactured by Interspiro, provide the latest technology to support firefighter safety and comfort, and came out top in the challenging user-test trials we ran as part of the tender process.

“They have body-shaped shoulder straps, a hip belt, backplate and lighter weight oxygen cylinders than those previously used by our firefighters. The harness is robust and light-weight, as well as being fully adjustable to meet the requirements of a diverse workforce.

The technological enhancements don’t stop at the sets and harness though.

Among the wealth of modified supporting items that accompanied the new sets, the TV firefighters became the first in the UK to use new technology provided through telemetry enabled entry control boards (ECBs), which enable closer monitoring of progress and welfare for firefighters wearing BA.

Other items include:

  • Personal issue facemasks made from chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear certified material.
  • Newly designed nine litre, 300 bar working pressure, air cylinders of composite construction with a non-metallic liner and cover.
  • Bluetooth communication system which enables those wearing BA to wirelessly communicate clearly with each other, with a casualty at a scene, and with officers outside the incident.

Due to the scale of the project, the new equipment was rolled out to each of the three services in phases.

Royal Berkshire Firefighters were the first to start wearing the new sets at operational incidents in March 2023. The new equipment was launched in Buckinghamshire in April 2023, and Oxfordshire in July 2023.

Adam Burch, Group Commander Technical and BA Project Manager said: “This was a particular complex and protracted project, from the initial conceptual idea back in August 2019, throughout research and tender phases, all the way to final implementation and roll-out across the service areas.

“The end result has been successful delivery of a collaborative contract and procurement process which, alongside the best equipment to enable our TV firefighters to provide the best response to our communities, provides a significant saving in both financial and resourcing terms.

“Feedback from those using the sets has already indicated this was a positive investment in terms of user safety, comfort, reliability and ease of use – the key elements considered as part of the project scope and tender.

“To help deliver these benefits we brought together subject matter experts from across the three services, including those with roles in procurement, technical research, equipment, training and operational delivery. These people have been working diligently over the last three years as a project team and it is thanks to their hard work that we have been able to successfully deliver on this large-scale across the Thames Valley.”

Worth a total of £1,768,468 across the three services, the collaborative contact and single procurement process also delivered a total joint cost avoidance saving of £532,178 for the first year.

Speaking on behalf of the Thames Valley Collaborative Executive Board, which signed off the business case for the project, Calum Bell said:This collaborative BA Project is an excellent example of what can be delivered to the Thames Valley community through an extensive programme of joint working.

“The team worked tirelessly on this three-year project, from concept to delivery, alongside their core and day to day duties. They worked tirelessly to overcome the challenging and complex circumstances brought about by a global pandemic and its impacts on the supply chain and were able to deliver the required outcomes without incurring any additional costs. 

“The benefits this project brings to the three services are efficiency and improvement, not just financially, but also to effective working in an operational environment. Implementation of a single BA set worn by all firefighters across the Thames Valley is the key enabler to the three services being able to work more seamlessly at any incident requiring this core piece of firefighting equipment.

“Thanks to the exceptional work of all the staff involved in this project, a common goal has been delivered which improves firefighter safety as well as the quality of service delivered to the people living and working in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire.”

The contract with Interspiro is part of a wider Thames Valley Collaboration which aims to deliver full interoperability at incident grounds across Thames Valley.