For firefighters, new bunker gear is like an early Christmas gift
Faith Huffman | News-Telegram News Editor

Sulphur Springs Fire Department Driver Danny Haywood (back, left), Firefighters J. Hettich and Chris Penny, Captains Charles C. Vaughn and Aaron Kager (in red hats), Firefighter Dean Gardner, and (front) Drivers Doug Clay and Jay McKee show off their new bunker gear, the washer extractor they will clean them in, and their new lockers.
Staff Photo by Angela Pitts

Dec. 2, 2005 -- Anyone visiting the fire station Tuesday can be forgiven for thinking the Sulphur Springs firefighters were celebrating Christmas a little early.

But in a way, they were.

The boxes at the station meant that three months of waiting had come to an end, and the items stowed inside encompassed the department's new bunker gear. Think of it as getting new clothes for Christmas when you REALLY wanted new clothes.

City firemen spent the morning unpacking, distributing and trying on their new turnout gear, purchased in September with $19,907 from an Assistance to Firefighters Grant, with the city kicking in the remaining portion of the $29,000 cost of the gear, according to Sulphur Springs Fire Department Driver Jay McKee, who penned the grant application.

Overall, the city purchased 22 complete sets of turnout gear, enough to outfit the entire department with matching protective attire. Each new $1,318 suit consists of new boots, more traditional helmets, coats with more pockets to stow gear, and pants sized to fit.

Firemen noted Tuesday while trying out the new gear that the boots are "more comfortable" than their old ones, thanks to a design which allows them to "fit more like shoes."

The new helmets are designed to be more in keeping with the "old school" traditional look. The color of the protective head gear varies by officer rank, so as to identify officers more easily on fire scenes. The helmets' leather fronts contain each fireman's rank and the department name, as well as each firefighters's individual department identification number which will help keep up with accountability which is "important on fire-ground scenarios," according to McKee.

The firemen were also appreciating the new bunker coats which have bigger pocket compartments to store tools, as well as radio pockets.

The old gear will be cleaned utilizing a new washer extractor, specially designed for cleaning fire gear, then tested, with the more durable pieces of old bunker gear stored as backups. The new washing machine is expected to be ready for use by Friday, provided the special injection system for soap arrives in time. 

The machines generally cost between $6,000 and $8,000, fees which the city budgeted for this year, but are expected to recoup within the next two to three years in saved cleaning maintenance fees.

"We had to spend money in the past to send them out. It should pay for itself in the long run by not having to pay to have them sent out — shipping plus cleaning," McKee said.

The washer extractor can clean up to seven full sets of turnout clothing at a time. Once clean, the gear will be hung on a new drying rack with enough hooks for a full shift's gear, then transferred to the new lockers, where they will hang ready for the next call.

The new lockers and drying rack were constructed by SSFD A Shift crew members Jay McKee and David James, at a fifth of the cost of those listed in the catalog. A set of lockers which holds four lockers generally runs $2,500 when ordered, but McKee and James were able to build both racks for about $500. Another bonus is that lockers are estimated to be even sturdier than the more expensive set due to the materials used in constructing them, McKee said.

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