The most expensive outfit they’ll ever buy: How firefighters place function over fashion

Flagstaff County in Alberta adds bunker gear to its wardrobe for greater effectiveness

Can’t take the heat?

It’s easy to forget that the heroes who suit up in reflective gear and take on monsters of flames on a daily basis are still human, and—yes—can break a sweat exerting so much energy.

But 21st-century technology has presented a solution: Bunker gear.

“Overheating is probably the biggest concern for firefighters when we’re talking about wildland firefighting,” says Kim Cannady, Regional Emergency Services Coordinator for Flagstaff County in northern Alberta.

“It’s really important that we have the proper gear to do our job.”

Structural firefighting gear is heavy and bulky, and it’s especially useful for firefighters in the winter. But of the 150 calls typically handled in Flagstaff County each year, many involve wildland firefighting.

“With some of these fires, we could be out there starting in the afternoon until dark. You can imagine the problem of overheating and exhaustion that could occur over that time,” says Cannady.

Technology has fortunately advanced enough to craft gear that suits firefighters for different terrain. Problem is, they come with a high price tag.

“Bunker gear has been something on my mind I wanted to get for these departments since I became chief two years ago,” says Cannady. “But when I first arrived, there were so many other large-ticket items the department needed that this had been put on the back burner.”

Line 3 Replacement Program (Canada)
The multibillion-dollar Line 3 Replacement Program (L3RP), with a $5.3-billion Canadian component, is the largest project in Enbridge history.

Many smaller fire departments will simply purchase coveralls as a lighter-weight alternative to structural firefighting gear. Cannady says the bunker gear blends the coverall Nomex material with Kevlar, allowing the garment to breathe.

Consider a cashmere sweater to a wool counterpart. Wool will work; cashmere is just better.

Enbridge is committed to making life safer in the communities near our operations and projects, including the nearby Line 3 Replacement Program. Since 2002, our Safe Community program has distributed grants to first responders totaling more than $10.7 million.

A recent $7,200 Safe Community grant from Enbridge will be enough to purchase a dozen sets of bunker gear for the Galahad and Strome Fire Departments that Cannady oversees. Each set will include coveralls, boots, helmets and gloves.

With over 32 years in fire service, Cannady knows firsthand the benefits to having higher quality gear. But a smaller department can often mean a smaller budget.

“While the gear is important, it doesn’t stop us from doing our job. There’s a lot of safety equipment out there that makes us safer and more effective, but it isn’t necessarily a need-to-have,” says Cannady.

“We rely on volunteers to do this job, and we’re really happy to finally be able to get this gear for them.”