Dressed for success . . . and safety: Custom-fitted turnout gear a must for firefighters

Equipment replacement carries a hefty head-to-toe price tag

Firefighting clothes need a tailor’s touch. And that’s not because our local heroes want to cut a dashing figure out in the heat of battle.

“Every time we bring on a new firefighter, their turnout gear has to be a custom fit—just like being fitted for a dress shirt. It’s a safety issue,” says Mark Box, city administrator with the City of Deer River, Minnesota. “Sleeve length on a jacket, for example, or pant length—you can’t have anything that’s too bulky or baggy, with too much gear hanging out there, because that creates a snag hazard.

“At the same time, if your sleeves or cuffs aren’t long enough, your gloves or boots can’t provide adequate coverage,” adds Box. “And you can’t have it loose around the neck, because embers could work their way down there when you’re fighting a fire.”

Whether it’s individual retirements, wear-and-tear, or exposure to extremely high heat, which can “compromise” equipment, ongoing replacement of turnout gear such as coats, pants, helmets, gloves and boots is an imperative for volunteer fire departments everywhere.

At the same time, that gear carries a hefty head-to-toe price tag of about $2,500 per person. It’s a special challenge for volunteer-based organizations like the Deer River, MN, Fire Department, which covers a large area (about 600 square miles) with a relatively sparse population (about 5,000 people)—which, in turn, means a small tax base.

“We try to replace so many sets a year, so we can follow National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards for recommended equipment lifespan,” says Box. “This year, to date, we’ve spent just over $11,000, which fitted six firefighters with new gear.”

Safety is at the core of everything we do at Enbridge. It’s the very foundation of our business. And as part of our commitment to safety, we’ve delivered a total of $9.3 million in grants to emergency response organizations near our pipelines and facilities, since 2002, through our Safe Community program.

These grants are used for safety equipment, professional training, or education to save lives. In the case of the Deer River Fire Department, Enbridge made a recent $5,000 donation that’s been used to buy new turnout gear.

The Deer River Fire Department’s 23 volunteers respond to everything from structure fires and car accidents to cold-water emergencies, medical lift assistance and wildland blazes.

“Keeping fire departments open and running takes good planning. Here in Deer River, we’ve had good planning and money management. Our trucks are up to date; the oldest truck in our fleet is approaching 21 years,” says Box.

“At the same time, keeping our volunteers outfitted is a critical process. Enbridge’s $5,000 grant paid for three sets of pants and jackets, and donations like this are a tremendous help to us.”

(TOP PHOTO: From left, Deer River FD volunteer firefighters Chad Evans, Brandon Berndt, John Moore and Travis Tyler show off new firefighting threads.)