Everyday, firefighters around the world put faith in their personal protective clothing and equipment, that is, their turnout or bunker gear. The collective costs of the individual items that make up the turnout gear ensemble are one of the more costly purchases for any department — whether for new recruits or replacement gear for veterans.
A set of turnout gear including helmet, hood, suspenders, coat, pants, boots and gloves will cost about $2,000.
So, we have several very important sources of exposure to risk at play if the gear has not been properly maintained according to the manufacturer's recommendations:
- Risk of physical injury to the wearer of the gear.
- Fiscal risk to the department if gear does not protect the wearer as specified due to loss of structural integrity.
- Fiscal risk to the department if it has to prematurely replace a set of turnout gear that's not been properly cared for.
What can you do to reduce these risks? Clean your turnout gear according to the manufacturer's recommendation after every firefighting operation. Promptly removing visible contaminants, like soot, along with the invisible chemicals and compounds, like benzene, from your gear will help ensure its integrity and increase its longevity.
Washing your gear is an important first step that must be followed by drying and storing gear according to the manufacturer's recommendations and the requirements of NFPA 1851: Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Structural Fire Fighting Protective Ensembles.
All manufacturers of firefighting protective clothing recommend prompt drying of washed turnout gear to maintain the protective qualities of the aramid fibers and liners. Those recommendations and the NFPA standard also specify the appropriate storage practices to ensure the longevity of the protective clothing.
Mechanical gear dryers are a valuable asset in this process and several manufacturers have incorporated mechanical drying capabilities into their storage systems, for example, turnout gear racks. The cost of mechanical dryers can present a financial challenge to many departments, but fortunately lower-cost turnout gear drying and storage alternatives are available.
Across the board, commercially available turnout gear storage systems provide for the free circulation of air, which helps dry turnout gear faster. These systems also provide for the proper storage of the gear once cleaned and dried, and enable personnel to quickly access their gear when responding to emergencies.
So, where to start? First, do a good assessment of your station to determine: (1) where do you need gear storage racks, and (2) how much space do you have available.
Next, determine whether you want the storage racks mounted to a wall, freestanding within the station (no wheels) or mobile within the fire station (wheeled units). Each of the three types of storage racks has some very good points, but there is no one solution that will work for every department.
Individual compartments — regardless of type or manufacturer — for the various storage racks on the market come in widths of 18, 20 and 24 inches. Both Groves and GearGrid — two of the largest manufacturers of storage rack systems for the fire service — have a very useful wall calculator on their respective websites. You plug in how much wall space you have available, select the compartment width you want, and the calculator determines how many units can be installed in the available space.
Once you've identified the size and number of units, you'll have a choice of finishes. Most manufacturers offer their product with either a chrome finish or a flexible epoxy coating, available in a variety of colors depending upon the manufacturer.
Groves' ReadyRack has tubular steel and do not require a rear grid to provide adequate support. This open-back design does not obstruct access to wall-mounted electric outlets or and switches. The open-back design also makes for installed storage systems that are maintenance friendly; you can clean or paint walls without removing the rack.
More than just a place to hang your hat and coat
The manufacturers of turnout gear storage systems offer a wide variety of add-on features that make their storage racks more versatile. Some of these features include:
- Lockable security doors, which can be installed initially or retrofitted.
- Electrical receptacles for each individual compartment to keep pagers, phones, flashlights and tools charged; this feature also can be installed initially or retrofitted — not available from Groves.
- Lockable storage drawers for each individual compartment.
- Fitted synthetic fabric covers with quick-release Velcro fasteners to protect gear from the affects of ultraviolet light.
- Specially designed hangers for coats, gloves and pants to promote free circulation of air for faster drying.
- Specially designed helmet stand to keep pressure off the helmet's suspension ratcheting system during storage.
The purchase of turnout gear represents a substantial monetary investment in the safety of your personnel. The turnout gear you've purchased will be fit for duty when needed and will have a longer lifecycle through a systematic approach to its use, care, and maintenance.
Just remember the turnout gear CDS: cleaning, drying and storing. Or Clowns Do Somersaults, if that helps you remember it better. We do love our mnemonics in the fire service, don't we?