Updating a 50-year old kit system for Fire and Rescue

Grantees: Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service

Grant: £30,000

Phase Reached: Implementation


Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service is the largest in Wales, covering six counties in a diverse landscape. Included in the service area are large rural areas, chemical plants, industrial areas, cities, coastline and mountains. 

Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Services (MAWWFRS) employs 1400 staff in 58 stations across a large area of Wales. The service expects greater financial pressures in the medium to long term, and need to realise efficiencies within their service whilst maintaining their high delivery standards.

The idea

Each new recruit is issued with their own set of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and a spare when they join the service. If both sets are being washed or repaired, then they can travel to one of the service’s stores and borrow a set from the loan stock. This arrangement has been in place for over 50 years and has, overall, ensured access to the right personal protective equipment for firefighters at all material times.

However, staff satisfaction with this system is low. Firefighters are frustrated with how much time and effort goes into keeping track of their PPE:

– Items go missing and have to be found in the large geographical service area

– Returning a set of kit to an individual firefighter can take up to six weeks

– Conservative estimates suggest firefighters have to travel to borrow kit at least once a year, with no guarantee the right kit will be there when they arrive

– Firefighters sometimes have to travel with soiled kit in their own cars. 

Keen to gain a greater understanding of the use and effectiveness of its operational assets, MAWWFRS were inspired by solutions utilised within Copenhagen Fire and Rescue Service and London Fire Brigade. Here, kit is allocated on a pooled basis. 

Using its Innovate to Save R&D funding, MAWWFRS set-out to establish:

  1. The optimal pooling arrangements for the entire service area, 
  2. The amount of kit needed to ensure a safe and reliable service, and 
  3. To develop the technology, using RFID tagging, lockers and data management, to safely track and manage the new pooled system of PPE issue. 

Keen to gain a greater understanding of the use and effectiveness of its operational assets, MAWWFRS were inspired by solutions utilised within Copenhagen Fire and Rescue Service and London Fire Brigade. 

What happened

Detailed data modelling was used to understand the best options for how to pool PPE and the amounts of PPE required to maintain a safe and reliable service.  MAWWFRS worked closely with Cardiff University’s Dr Geraint Palmer. Using internal MAWWFRS data, Dr Palmer recommended that the fire stations should be grouped into four clusters, rather than stock being pooled over the whole service area. This would reduce travel time if firefighters had to use stock from another station.

Under the new system, every member of operational staff will always have structural PPE available for their exclusive use, but it will not be issued to them personally. At each location there will be pool stock held in a bespoke storage unit  which will be available to all personnel on that station but also to all other personnel within the Service. RFID tags on the PPE and specialist scanners in the storage units will allow the service to know in real time how much kit is in each location, and adjust the stock levels as necessary.

Zebra Technologies came on board to support MAWWFRS, supplying the scanners and testing their reliability in conjunction with the PPE storage which was also procured and tested as part of the work. 


  • To date, there does not appear to be another UK Fire and Rescue Service undertaking a programme of this complexity or breadth – where pooling exists in other fire services, there is no corresponding ability to track assets. 
  • Analysis of the number of clusters required showed a trade-off between minimising within-cluster distances or probability of leaving the station, and minimising the required number of spare PPE. 
  • For MAWWFRS, four clusters were deemed optimal, and calculations indicate that leaving the station to get PPE will not be an issue with a frequency estimated of it happening once every 178 weeks (3.5 years) compared with the current system where staff need to leave their station once every 31 weeks.

Anticipated Savings 

Over the 10-year lifespan of the PPE assets, it is anticipated that the project will generate revenue savings of £645,866

What’s next?

MAWWFRS have applied for a loan of £296,896 to implement its work. The loan is scheduled to be repaid over five years. They will undertake a rigorous evaluation of the implementation to understand the extent to which they have improved efficiency and user satisfaction within the service, whilst maintaining levels of safety.