Chief on Ga. air pack issue: 'I'm putting my career on the line'

Chief Edward O'Brien says deciding to request new gear for his firefighters was huge relief


DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — DeKalb County's fire chief said a recent decision to ask for new breathing gear put his career on the line.

A 2 year Channel 2 Action News Investigation highlighted firefighter concerns about their air packs.

Channel 2's Erica Byfield sat down with the chief Tuesday to talk about the controversial decision.

Chief Edward O'Brien told Byfield that securing the new gear for his firefighters was a huge relief.

"Anytime there is an issue with a product, one is too many," O'Brien said.

O'Brien said asking for new air packs was the most controversial, yet eventually satisfying decision he's made as a fire chief.

"I'm putting my career on the line," he said.

In 2010, a Channel 2 Action News Investigation broke the story about firefighter complaints that their air packs could quit on them inside burning buildings.

DeKalb County used grant money to buy the Draeger gear in 2009.

Since then, O'Brien said firefighters had 29 near misses or close calls.

"I just can't take that as the chief," O'Brien said.

Within the last week, DeKalb County's commissioners voted unanimously to take $2 million out of the reserves to buy new gear.

The chief showed Byfield the new Scott air packs. He said the fire department's plan is to purchase 300 new tanks and 750 face masks and regulators.

Since the very beginning, Draeger said the problem was with the maintenance of the product, not with the equipment itself.

Recently, an independent federal investigation agreed with Draeger.

"So you still stand by your decision to want new gear?" Byfield asked O'Brien.

"Most definitely," he answered.

O'Brien said Draeger told DeKalb County they were the only department having problems with the air packs.

But after Channel 2 Action News got involved, O'Brien said he learned at least 10 other fire departments were reporting issues.

"To me that is the difficult part. It's almost like they tried to keep us all separated with the issues," O'Brien said.

He added his firefighters are just as relieved as he is they are getting new equipment.

Several sent him emotional emails.

"I'm not here about Draeger or a new brand. I'm making sure those guys go home every day," O'Brien said.

O'Brien told Byfield he expects to swap out this gear within the next 60 days.

Republished with permission from WSBTV

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