Breckenridge Texan

New gear helps local firefighters stay safe

New gear helps local firefighters stay safe
September 06
11:56 2018

The concept of “dressing for the occasion” doesn’t usually bring to mind firefighters, but that’s exactly what members of the Breckenridge Fire Department can do now that they have two sets of gear to choose from when they’re getting ready to roll out of the station on a fire call.

With the help of a grant from the Texas A&M Forest Service and donations, each firefighter in the Breckenridge department now has two sets of gear to wear for completely different situations. They each have identical equipment. In addition to their fire-fighting gear, they also now have the choice of wearing either long or short pants with the uniform underneath the gear.

Two types of gear for two types of fire fighting

Firefighters in the department began using the two different types of fire gear during the past few months, Breckenridge Fire Chief Calvin Chaney said.

One set of gear is wild-land gear that is designed specifically for fighting wildfires, while the other set is bunker gear – or structure gear – for fighting fires such as house fires.

Regardless of which gear they choose to wear, Chaney said, once an alarm is sounded they will be dressed and out of the station in one minute to one minute and ten seconds most of the time.

“That’s getting their gear on and getting in the truck and leaving,” he said. “The arrival time just depends on how far we’re traveling.”

Wildfire gear

The funds for the wild-land gear didn’t come out of the city budget. The gear, which is much cooler and lighter than the structure gear, was purchased with money that people have donated to the department.

Chaney said the yellow fire suits are lightweight and made out of 100 percent Nomex, a flame resistant material that was developed by DuPont. He said the light-weight gear helps reduce the heat stress that firefighters experience when battling wildfires.

“It’s a much cooler and lighter gear,” Chaney said. “We’re trying to keep the heat stress down because heat stress kills firemen left and right.”

The department also obtained shorts for the firefighters to wear under the suits to help keep them cool.

Structure Gear

The local firefighters also received new structure firefighting gear, also called bunker gear, which is worn by firefighters when fighting structure fires such as house fires. The gear was purchased with the assistance of a grant from the Texas A&M Forest Service through their Rural Volunteer Fire Department Assistance Program. The grant covered 90 percent of the cost of the gear.

Chaney said the bunker gear has three layers. There’s an outside protective shell; under that is a moisture barrier; and then there’s a thermal barrier under that. It also has pleated elbows, pleated shoulders, pleated knees and a higher cut in the gusset in the crotch that fits more like pants than actual gear.

The cost for a coat and a pair of pants for each set of structure gear is around $1,700. The expected life of the gear for a paid department like Breckenridge is 10 years from the date of manufacture, Chaney said.

“It will last that long if we take care of it and wash it regularly, but we do sometimes have to replace some gear,” he said.

However, he said, the state of Texas mandates replacement of gear after a 10-year period. He said it does not matter if it’s a coat, pants, hood helmet, after 10 years it has to be replaced. To track the life of the gear, he said they keep logs on the use of all the equipment. Each firefighter has a file and the gear they are wearing has a serial number that matches their file.

The department received one set of new structural gear for each firefighter, which was paid for by a grant from the Texas Forestry Service, on July 31. Chaney said the old gear sets they were using are three years old, and still have seven years of life on them. The older gear will be used for backup gear.

When the backup gear is not being used, it is stored in a dark closet in plastic bags, which Chaney said extends the life of the gear. “We try to get the full 10-year credit from it,” he said.

Cleaning the gear

An important part of keeping the gear in good shape is getting it cleaned regularly and inspecting it for damage. In the past, Chaney said, it had to be cleaned at least once a year, but now the recommendation is cleaning the gear whenever it needs it.

The gear can’t be washed in a commercial laundry because those machines spin too fast and will damage the gear. The department used to send their gear to Houston to be cleaned. That would cost the department $3,000 to $5,000 per year, Chaney said, and took about two weeks to get it back.

Now the department has purchased its own washer (called an extractor) and a dryer that are specially designed for washing the gear. He said with the new extractor, which is expected to be delivered later this month, they can wash, clean and inspect the gear themselves.

The fire chief said there’s not a set number times the gear has to be washed, but that it just depends on visually looking at it.

“What we’re going to try to do now, is do rough decon (decontamination) at the fire,” Chaney said. “That’s if you have rough stuff you can brush off with a brush or wash it off with a hose. When they say, ‘Hey, this gear’s dirty.’ Then, that gear’s going to be washed. They’ll then take out their old gear, their back-up gear, and they’ll wear it until the other gear’s washed and clean and ready to go.”

However, he said they cannot make repairs if the gear needs it. “So if it has a hole in it or anything, we have to send it off,” he said.

Chaney said state regulations require mandatory professional inspections of the gear once a year. In addition to the annual inspection, the gear is checked visually after a major fire event by a firefighter at the department who is certified to inspect and clean gear. He said each shift has a firefighter who is trained to make the inspections.

If any of the gear doesn’t meet the qualifications during the annual inspection, it has to be repaired. For example, he said, the inspectors check the reflective stripping on the gear, and if it doesn’t meet the standards, they change it out.

He said because they have new gear this year, it won’t have to be inspected and they will save the $3,000 cost for the inspection. Plus, newer the gear usually has fewer repairs that need to be made.

Clean gears helps prevent firefighter’s exposure to carcinogens

Another big reason for putting such an emphasis on keeping the firefighters’ gear clean is cancer prevention among firefighters, Chaney said.

“Everything we deal with probably has something that causes cancer,” Chaney said. “My guys, once we get done with a structure fire, they’re told ‘Get your gear cleaned at the scene. Get it wiped off; don’t bring it here.’ When they get here, we try to get everything serviced, and we tell the guys ‘shower within an hour.’”

Once they’re back at the station, Chaney said, the firefighters’ gear stays in the truck bay and does not go where the firefighters sleep, like in the bunk room or living room.

Importance of using high-quality firefighting gear

Chaney said buying high-quality gear is not just about having gear that lasts a long time; it’s also something the firefighters can be proud of and it’s important the way the gear fits firefighters when they are fighting fires.

“We don’t buy the cheapest set of gear,” he said. “We try to get good stuff that fits better, that’s more mobile. We don’t have a large department, so we try to get them in the best stuff we can to keep them fresh. You know, a fire’s tough.”

Breckenridge Texan Publisher/Managing Editor Tony Pilkington tries on the fire department’s new bunker gear to get a better idea of the difference between the different types of firefighting gear. (Photo by Calvin Chaney/Breckenridge Fire Department)

Story by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan

Cutline, top photo: Members of the Breckenridge Fire Department show the different types of gear– from left, Firefigher Jon Jackson in the standard uniform with long pants, Capt. Justin Read in the new wild-land gear, and Capt. Jeb Baxley in the new bunker/structure gear. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

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