FIREFIGHTERS have been ordered to revert to their old uniforms after another potentially dangerous failure of the new Chinese-made safety suits led to them being withdrawn from service.
The leadership of Fire and Rescue NSW issued a directive to the state’s nearly 7000 firefighters at 6pm on Friday to hang up the new generation uniforms until issues with faulty zippers were resolved.
About 2000 officers had been issued with the new uniforms amid delays in their delivery and rising questions over the government tender process that awarded the $17 million contract to Pacific Brands, as revealed in The Sun-Herald last week.
Pacific Brands, which is making the high-tech garments in a factory in Jiangsu province, has been asked to prove the zipper faults can be rectified and is said to be making ”progress”.
Officers lost patience with the glitch-plagued uniforms on Thursday after a firefighter reported a zipper broke, exposing inner layers at a critical moment during a live situation.
The Fire Brigade Employees Union said the initial estimate that 5 per cent of the uniforms were faulty was wrong and a more accurate figure was closer to 20 per cent of those delivered.
A spokesman for the Fire Commissioner, Greg Mullins, said there had been a ”number of instances” when uniforms had not performed to the standard required.
”As the new uniform is currently under review, the Commissioner … has instructed firefighters to continue wearing the previous uniforms,” he said. ”Because the safety of firefighters is paramount, Commissioner Mullins made this direction until he is satisfied that all issues with the new uniform are satisfactorily resolved.”
Firefighters have complained the new uniforms, which include a Gore-tex ”airlock moisture barrier”, are too hot to wear. Fire and Rescue NSW has been forced to issue an emergency order for 800 pairs of lightweight ”station wear” to ease the heat problems.
The rushed order, which will cost taxpayers $100,000, is being made in Asia but not by Pacific Brands.
The main order for 13,000 new uniforms is now nearly four months late. The Sun-Herald has learnt that no one from Pacific Brands in Australia or the state government had inspected the Jiangsu factory before the contract was awarded.
Five Australian companies that lost the bid jointly demanded an independent inquiry into ”serious problems” in the tender process.