Fleur Lombard
04 Dec 2018

The tragic death of Fleur Lombard spurred on major changes in the design of women´s firefighter clothing

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Fleur Lombard

Fleur Lombard - Queens Gallantry Medal (1974 -1996)

  Fleur Lombard was born in Derbyshire. Shewas the first female firefighter to die on duty in peacetime Britain.
  Fleur Lombard was one of only eight women among Avon’s 700 firefighters.
  On graduating in 1994, she received the Silver Axe Award, for the most outstanding recruit on her training school.
   The funeral service was held on 14th February 1996, at Derby Cathedral.
  Her ashes are interred at St. Enodoc’s Church, where her memorial stone records her parents Roger and Jane Lombard and that she had a sister Rebecca.

Men´s and women´s bodies are different - and the firefighting gear and turnout clothing should of course reflect those differences. This may seem given at this day and age, but it hasn´t always been obvious to everyone. This is the story of Fleur Lombard, who´s tragic death in a flashover 1996 helped change the way turnout gear is designed for men and women.

Female firefighters have long argued that men´s turnout gear don´t always fit them well, or not even always serving their intended purpose.

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On February 4th, 1996, a deadly fire occurred which was going to cause the British government and some dedicated researchers to start a deep investigation into how turnout gear is designed for - and how they serve - on different body types.

It was a tragic day when Fleur Lombard, one of only eight female firefighters in Avon, UK, perished almost instantly in a flashover. The cause of death was determined to a failed breathing apparatus - however it was determined that the temperature underneath her clothing had been 400 - 600 degrees Celsius at one point, leading investigators to question how well the turnout gear was actually working for her body type.

Fleur Lombard’s death set into place a wider debate and various projects about PPE in general, its design and limitations. Special focus was given to PPE clothing and its design, fit, suitability and protection for women firefighters.

The report “National Anthropometry – survey of female firefighters” by Dr Mandy Stirling  set out clearly for the first time the differences between men and women’s body shapes.

Suppliers could no longer just supply “cut down” men’s clothing for women firefighters.

In addition, the fire testing of the PPE was all undertaken at a company called BTTG in Manchester that had a new female manikin (“Sophie”) equivalent of “Ralph” the existing full flame male engulfment manikin under EN469

The investigation led to 23 recommendations, many of which were local to Avon Fire and Rescue Service but some with national implications.

All the PPE worn was exposed to conditions that far exceeded those expected or required of it.

The main project supported by the British government was the Integrated Clothing Project(ICP) which in 2006 started to look at both PPE and the clothing worn underneath.

All of the contractors who were involved in the procurement had to supply specifically tailored PPE and uniform clothing for women and men – unisex was not allowed.

They were all supplied with a report that had been commissioned by the Fire Brigade’s Union and the Chief and Assistant Chief Fire Officers Association.

So for the first time it was possible to design and test firefighting tunics and over trousers on a male test manikin and a female test manikin and to see the performance of each side by side.

Other issues also became evident during the ICP clothing project, women firefighters had been issued in the past with kit where the zips and fastenings were on the “mens” side of use.

All this was stopped and dedicated clothing both for PPE and station wear was developed and issued to those Fire Services who bought from the contract.

 

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For those of you who want to find out more about the fire at Leo’s supermarket, it is possible to download the report here:

https://www.ife.org.uk/write/MediaUploads/Incident%20directory/Leos%20Supermarket%20-%201996/FRS_4th_Feb_1996_Redacted.pdf

For those who want to learn more about Dr Mandy Stirling’s Anthropometric work about female firefighters and size differences to men:

https://humanics-es.com/FireFighterAnthropometry.pdf

 

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The Fire at Leo´s Supermarket

On Sunday 4th February 1996 at 1246hrs, Avon Fire And Rescue Service were called to a fire in Leo’s Supermarket, Broad Street, Staple Hill, Bristol.

The first two appliances arrived at 1251hrs and 1253hrs (2). At 1253hrs the officer in charge asked for two more appliances (4). At 1311hrs another two were asked for (6) and at 1343hrs four more appliances and a hydraulic platform (HP)to make 10 pumps + 1 HP in total.

The first and second crews attending started fighting the fire and made entry through a fire exit at the rear of the building into the heavily smoke logged building. This entrance became entry breathing apparatus control point (ECP) 1. A further ECP was established at the main customer entrance to the store to make ECP 2.

Whilst the BA wearers from ECP 1 were attacking the fire at the rear through the fire exit door. At ECP 2 two teams of two BA wearers were committed into the building Team 1,led by Fleur Lombard was tasked with laying a guideline into the building. Team 2 were tasked with taking a high pressure hose reel into the building for firefighting. Due to the conditions after three minutes Team 2 withdrew back to the ECP outside the building.

At the same time as Team 2 exited the building a radio message came back from Fleur Lombard in Team 1 stating – “evacuate, evacuate”.

It was whilst evacuating that the flashover occurred. The force of the blast threw the other firefighter with Fleur Lombard 3-4m away from her and caused him to black out. As he regained his orientation he was spotted just in the entrance lobby and led out to safety.

Once outside the building that firefighter on discovering that Fleur was not out of the building with him grabbed a hose reel off another firefighter and went back in to find her, assisted by another BA wearer.

They found her just inside the lobby to the left hand side but she was unfortunately already dead.

After the fire it was found that the fire had been started deliberately by the store’s security guard who was on his first shift at the store using a volatile liquid.

The temperature of the flashover was in excess of 1000c.

Following the post mortem it was determined that the breathing apparatus mask had become detached and damage to the respiratory system would have meant death would have been virtually instantaneous.

 

The cause of death was determined to be;

1a Shock

1b Extensive burns

Unlike the remains of the BA set. Most of the remains of Fleur Lombard’s PPE clothing were unfortunately incinerated and disposed of by the hospital.

Due to the full thickness burns received to a large percentage of her body this was an area of the investigation that was frustrated by the hospital disposal.

However through simulation, testing and expert opinion a view has been formed of how the PPE would have performed during the three minutes from the flashover until Fleur was recovered approximately three minutes later.

Due to the construction of the building, in particular the fibre board ceiling and the high fire loading and despite being vented to open air through the roof a flashover still occurred.

In addition to the flashover occurring a set of circumstances are believed to have come together.

This meant where Fleur Lombard was standing close to the wall, she was hit by a sudden deepening of fire gasses at flame temperature around her.

The other BA wearer was standing near her but further from the wall and survived the blast and the worst effects of the flashover.

Through examination and observation of the scraps of PPE clothing that were not destroyed by the hospital, it was estimated that the temperature next to the skin would have been between 400c-600c at some point.

The investigation led to 23 recommendations, many of which were local to Avon Fire and Rescue Service but some with national implications.

All the PPE worn was exposed to conditions that far exceeded those expected or required of it.

However Fleur Lombard’s death set into place a wider debate and various projects about PPE in general, its design and limitations. Special focus was given to PPE clothing and its design, fit, suitability and protection for women firefighters.

 This Case Study was one of the topics discussed at the recent Two Day Meeting of the CTIF Commission for Women in Fire & Rescue Services in Vienna.

 

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