Firefighters get new gear

BLUE EARTH – Imagine having to work in clothes that don’t fit you. That’s what some members of the Blue Earth Fire Department have done for years, but they don’t have to anymore

Firefighters recently got new turnout gear – everything from helmets to boots – just in time for National Fire Prevention Month in October.

“Protection for the firefighters is the biggest thing,” said Fire Chief Roger Davis.

The last time the firefighters got new gear was 10 years ago. It was purchased with money from a federal grant.

Over the years, some firefighters left. Their helmets, coats and boots stayed, being passed along to the new guys, who weren’t always the same size as the old ones.

“A lot with less than 10 years [on the crew] have hand-me-downs,” Davis said. “The turnout gear itself was either oversized or under-sized.”

It really got interesting when Brooke Sonnicksen joined the fire department about three years ago, and needed gear suited to a woman.

“We bought used gear from Delavan,” Davis said.

He has purchased used gear for some of the guys too, when the old outfits were just too small for them.

After a decade, the warranty on the old suits was running out, and Davis knew it was time to buy new ones.

Thirty sets of turnout gear includes helmets, jackets, bib pants, gloves and boots. In total, the state-of-the-art outfits cost $70,000, which was budgeted last year as a capital expense, since the FEMA grant wasn’t available again.

Every new set was fitted to the firefighter wearing it. Construction took about four months, but it was worth it.

“You should have seen everybody’s smiles on their faces when they walked in that day,” Davis said. “Everybody’s been measured twice; everybody’s fits.”

The new turnout gear has some features the old sets didn’t have. One of the best is a small flap just under the back collar that hides a strap, called a Drag Rescue Device or DRD.

Veteran firefighter Mark Mensing said if a firefighter loses consciousness in a burning building, another firefighter can grab that strap and haul his buddy to safety. What isn’t visible is the connecting harness system that goes under the firefighter’s arms and supports him or her while being dragged.

Another feature Mensing demonstrated is an adjustable black belt in the bib pants that gives the wearer support for the lower back.

Davis said the new coats have a criss-cross outer layer that will take more wear and specially reinforced elbow and knee pads.

The old outfits will be kept in the lockers as back-ups for when the fires come one after the other.

“It’s not fun putting a wet set on at 2 o-clock in the morning,” Davis said.