Ga. firefighters upgrade duty uniforms, turnout gear

Cotten duty uniforms replaced synthetic blends that can melt to the skin; they also received a second set of turnouts

By Bianca Cain Johnson
The Augusta Chronicle

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Augusta firefighters are enjoying a pleasant adjustment to new uniforms and turnout gear, correcting what many felt was a wardrobe malfunction.

Before a recent change, the uniforms featured a poly-blend fabric that had the potential to melt to a firefighter's skin.

The new cotton uniforms are not the perfect solution but offer more protection and a sharper appearance, De­puty Chief Sterling Jones said.

The fire department chose to change blends last year, but the new uniforms didn't arrive until early 2014.

"It's a step in the right direction," Jones said.

He hopes in the future to see firefighters in a Nomex fire-resistant uniform. While no material is 100 percent fire resistant, he said, Nomex is close.

The department had been taking steps to improve equipment for more than a year. Boots have also been ungraded. Firefighters said the older ones were only useful at keeping their feet dry, but newer heavy-duty ones have some protective properties.

"All this stuff has a cost associated with it, but it's money well spent," Jones said.

For the first time, firefighters are now equipped with two sets of "turnout" gear, which includes gloves, hood, suspenders, jacket and pants that are worn when responding to a fire.

Sgt. Anthony Cadle said most people don't realize how dirty jackets and pants can get as they respond to calls. Water, dirt and sweat often splatter on or soak the material.

While each fire station has its own washer and dryer specifically for turnout gear, there isn't always time to get clean before going to another call.

It can result in cross-contamination and even injuries for the firefighters. Cadle said a firefighter can develop steam burns if he walks into a structure fire with soaking wet gear.

"We really don't hear the complaints we used to," Jones said. "They've pretty much dried up. No one says they don't want a second set of turnout gear."

Turnout gear has an expiration date of 10 years. Jones said the clock was steadily clicking on stacks of gear that was in warehouses waiting on new hires.

"Why have it sit on a shelf when you could use it?" he said.

It costs almost $15,000 to fully outfit a firefighter with turnout gear and work and dress uniforms, but firefighters won't be outfitted all at once.

Firefighters are first provided turnout gear, then given a $400 annual allowance for clothing. In the first years, the officers stack up their everyday work uniform of shirts and pants they wear when they aren't in burning buildings.

It isn't until later years, James said, that firefighters begin to explore getting a dress uniform, which is only worn for funerals or other special events.


(c)2014 The Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Ga.)

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