ROSEBORO — Fire chief Lee Coleman has made the safety of his firefighters a number one priority since being installed into office over a year ago. In the course of the last six months, Coleman has been able to secure new turnout gear for several members of the department.
According to Coleman, a full set of turnout gear includes a coat, pants, gloves, suspenders, boots, helmet and mask. This gear, Coleman said, is vitally important for every fireman who battles flames, as several of his department members experienced this past weekend at a brush fire in the area of Porter and Bass Lake roads.
Once that equipment expires, Coleman shared, the gear no longer serves a beneficial purpose or protects those serving the call of duty. A new set of turnout gear costs approximately $2,500 and through grants made available to the fire department, Coleman has purchased seven sets and secured the purchase of two additional sets. This, the chief added, has saved the town and department more than $20,000.
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.
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.
In August 2015, Coleman reported that Roseboro Fire Department had 25 sets of turnout gear, with an average age of 7.5 years. Over the course of the next three years, three of those sets were set to expire and the department was already sitting on seven sets that were out of date and needed replacing.
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 older 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.
“Lee is making great headway in getting this gear current,” town clerk Tony Blalock said during a recent board meeting.
The purchase of the new gear has allowed Coleman to replace that gear that was expired and at the present time, the department’s gear is all within the 10-year limit. Several sets are set to expire in two years, and at that time, Coleman said funds will be available to purchase new sets of gear, as the department is putting away money now and saving for the future.
“We have worked it into the budget to purchase two new sets every year,” Coleman said. “We want to continue to resupply the gear so that the average age is four years old.”
Not having the appropriate gear, Coleman said, makes a difference in saving or losing someone’s life. Firefighters who are wearing outdated or damaged gear are more susceptible to being injured in a fire.
“A fireman can really do harm to himself if he doesn’t have the proper gear on,” Coleman added.
Coleman recently shared information with his department about a study that shows a higher instance of cancer of the throat, testicles and skin in firemen because of the use of improper equipment.
In addition to purchasing the new equipment, Coleman said he is stressing keeping the equipment the department has clean and well taken care of. The department is making every effort to wash all equipment and store the equipment properly.
“Dirty gear used to be a sign of a busy department,” Coleman said. “Not anymore. It’s the sign of a lazy department that isn’t taking good care of their gear and their men. We are going to do our part to make this gear last.”
The town commissioners and mayor have expressed their gratitude in Coleman’s efforts to not only protect the residents of Roseboro, but the men who are fighting the fires.
“I am very proud of what our fire chief Lee Coleman has done to obtain resources to purchase equipment for the safety and effectiveness of our firefighters,” Roseboro mayor Alice Butler said. “He has spent many hours looking for grants so we can get updated personal protective turnout gear for our firefighters.
In addition to the turnout gear, Butler said the fire department has obtained a fire hose, several self-contained breathing masks and 20 pair of gloves because of grants Coleman has written. The chief is currently waiting to receive funding for 20 new pagers.
“The Roseboro firefighters stay very busy not only responding to calls, but staying up-to-date on their training and fundraising,” Butler added. “In addition to responding to calls at any time of the day or night, they must also attend 36 hours of training each year to remain on the department. This is in addition to their already busy schedules.”
Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.