Turnout gear is vitally important for every fireman who enters a structure engulfed in a blaze. Once that equipment expires, that gear no longer serves a beneficial purpose or protects those serving the call of duty.
Lee Coleman, fire chief with the Roseboro Volunteer Fire Department, has been working to replace several sets of turnout gear the department has. Replacing the turnout gear is something Coleman said has to be done periodically because the suits expire after their 10 years of service.
A full set of turnout gear includes a coat, pants, gloves, suspenders, boots, helmet and mask. While the gloves, suspenders, boots, helmets and masks are easily replaced, the coats and pants are costly and more difficult to acquire.
“For a fireman to enter a structure,” Coleman said, “they must be in their turnout gear. Even after they are finished fighting the fire and they have left the structure, there are hazardous conditions that require them to continue wearing the suit. There is always work to be done after a fire is put out and we want the firemen to be protected.”
Each set is made of three different layers, each serving a beneficial purpose. The thermal layer is the most critical component and offers the most protection. When firemen enter a house or structure that is covered in a blaze, Coleman said they are entering a building that is about 1,000 degrees. Sometimes, he said, it can be even hotter.
“Fires today burn hotter and faster than they used to,” Coleman said. “Because of that, there is more protection needed now than there was required years ago.”
According to Coleman, to purchase a full set of turnout gear, the department is looking at around $2,000. A new coat and pants costs $1,698, a new helmet is $250, a new mask and voice amplifier is $750, new boots are $250 and gloves are $60. The voice amplifier, Coleman said, is a very important part of communication when a fireman enters a structure.
The NFPA (National Fire Protection Agency) regulates the standards behind firefighting equipment. The coats and pants are only good for 10 years of service, or less if they become damaged.
“Anytime the outer layer is damaged, the inner part of the material is affected,” Coleman said. “When this happens, you have to replace the equipment sooner.”
The Roseboro Fire Department has 25 sets of turnout gear with an average age of 7.5 years. In three years, Coleman said, there are seven sets of turnout gear that will need to be replaced. Right now, he added, he has seven sets that are out of date and need to be replaced. That, he said, will cost the department approximately $14,000.
Since Coleman became the new fire chief he has been working diligently to find grants that will assist the department in purchasing the equipment. While the old equipment is still used with younger volunteers who are still in training and aren’t entering fires, the problem is the older firemen who are trained and in need of new equipment.
“We manage the turnout gear based on training,” Coleman said. “I move the gear around if we need to make equipment available for the men who are trained.”
In 2008, Coleman added, former fire chief Bobby Owen was responsible for getting a FEMA grant for the department that brought in nearly $200,000 for equipment at the fire station.
“There was a great deal of turnout gear purchased with that money,” Coleman said.
The need for new equipment, according to Coleman, is vital.
“If I don’t get some of this equipment replaced, I’ll have firemen without gear,” the fire chief said.
The department’s biggest need, he said, is coats and pants. Because helmets, masks, gloves and boots wear out so quickly, the department keeps a stock of those items available at all times.
“This problem isn’t just specific to Roseboro,” Coleman said. “This is a problem that every department faces.”
The department has plans to hold several fundraisers in the future. The first is scheduled for October. The department will hold a haunted house event that will be open to the public.
Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.