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Turnout/Bunker Gear: Time for a change?

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  • Turnout/Bunker Gear: Time for a change?

    Not very long ago, the Boston Fire Department instituted a new policy that gave members the option of wearing 3/4 boots and coat as opposed to bunker pants and coat.
    In the wake of the recent LODD of FF Donald Franklin of Ladder Co. 44, some in the FDNY are questioning whether "bunker gear" is the way to go.
    Tuesday,January 16,2001


    Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen yesterday defended the use of heavy protective bunker gear after a 42-year-old member of the Bravest became the third firefighter to die of a heart attack in three months.
    "There are definitely negatives to bunker gear," Von Essen told The Post. "You get tired sooner because of the weight of the gear, [and] exhaustion comes on more quickly, but the tradeoff is the unbelievable protection you get."

    Burns are down 70 percent since the bunker gear was introduced in 1995.

    Firefighter Donald Franklin, a 16-year department vet, collapsed Saturday after battling a blaze that killed a couple in their Bronx home.

    Earlier this month, a Queens firefighter suffered a fatal heart attack on a treadmill just after his shift, and in November, a Bronx firefighter succumbed at his firehouse moments after returning from battling a blaze.

    Critics charge that while the bunker gear has allowed firefighters to go deeper into fires and remain inside longer, the added weight, stress and increased body temperature is taking its toll on the hearts of the men.

    Rudy San Filippo, Manhattan trustee for the Uniformed Fire Fighters Association, claims that the heavily insulated, highly fire-resistant fabric is just too weighty and constricting.

    "Nobody's done a study on what the actual damage to hearts is," he said. "I'd much rather have the old gear back. It's like day and night, it's so much lighter."

    In the early 1990s, the Fire Department resisted switching to the bunker gear, citing the possibility of firefighters overheating and suffering exhaustion.

    But as burn rates rose and firefighters clamored for better equipment, the department launched a pilot program that led to the department-wide switch in 1995.

    Von Essen said the decision to adopt bunker gear, which was made before his appointment as fire commissioner, "is a decision that was made by almost every department in the country, and no one has experienced a rise in heart attacks because of them."

    Uniformed Fire Fighters Association spokesman Tom Butler backed up Von Essen.

    "Clearly, there are some tradeoffs" to bunker gear, Butler acknowledged.

    "The union hopes, and I'm sure the department hopes, that some of these issues can be addressed - regarding fatigue and increased body temperatures - through increased training and physical conditioning."

    So, is it time to take a second look and perhaps weigh more carefully the pros and cons of our heavy, insulating, almost fully encapsulating gear?

  • #2
    The new turnout gear has certainly prevented alot of burn injuries but the reason the guys on the FDNY got a lot burns to begin with was because they never pulled their boots up! That's why there was such a dramatic drop in percentage(70% decrease) when full turnout gear was issued.

    I am in favor of what the Boston Fire Department is doing. Long term studies have never been conducted until BFD started in August of 2000. I would like to see what their results are. And I like the options the BFD presented to it's members for their bunker gear policy regarding what can and can't be worn as part of this new trial period. Leaving the option up to the firemen.

    Just because bunker gear can withstand more heat doesn't mean we have to push ourselves further. That's a reason why I choose not to wear a nomex hood so that I may no my limits in a fire,(relying on when my ears start to burn) But that's a different issue. Bunker gear has always been hot to wear. How many of you guys used to or even still do take the liner out and try to get away with wearing just the shell and your FR clothes?

    Every time a hear or read about a fireman's death it was the result of a heart attack. We're not all out of shape! Doesn't anyone see trend here? My physical fitness training is more cardiovascular such as swimming and running than weight training. I'm not scared of dying in fire. I am more scared of dying from a heart attack.

    Glen Bordas


    • #3
      I just got out of the burn center. I got 3rd degrees on my hands after an acetelene tank failed. I wasnt even inside yet, I was a few feet from the door. If I was wearing the old stuff (3/4 boots) and a long coat, I would have been burned worse... Take a look at the cholesterol levels and stuff like that. Guys thier age die more because of improper excercize, bad diets and stuff like that.. Its not bunker gear alone... I would never go into a fire nowadays without bunker gear.. Spend the time making the firefighters healthier not on studying if bunker gear is the killer...


      • #4
        I would have to agree with the last post make your firefighters healthier. also you can buy gear that is lighter and better then the stuff made a few years ago. they should spend money on researching new gear and instuting a physical fitness program.


        • #5
          Best wishes for a full and speedy recovery. I'm glad the gear worked to your advantage. I don't think anyone would question the superb protection bunker gear affords in that type of situation.


          • #6
            The FDNY does have an excellent physical fitness program. You can check it out on the FDNY official web-site.

            Tell me something fellas, Do you think Chicago would continue to use the long coats and pull up boots if that gear didn't protect it's firemen? Why do you think Boston FD trial study incorporates the use of the long coats and pull up boots? Firemen of today think that they're invinsible because their bunker gear can take more heat than of gear of the past. I think if you were to use the long coats and pull up boots you wouldn't go as deep into a fire. You all make comments about how this gear is awsome and you wouldn't do anything without it. Well just because it is new doesn't make it better. Yes I rely on my ears geting hot to tell me when I am in too much. I haven't been burned. Some of you say that fires are hotter then before. Give me a break. Fire isn't hotter. The atmosphere may be, due to all the insulative materials used in construction such as EEW's (Engergy Effecient Windows) that trap heat in. or fire resistant materials such as sheetrock. Not to get off on a tangent but because you have more protection doesn't mean you can go further.

            That's why I think heart attack rates are high. You're pushing yourselves too much. Even if you're in great shape you can have a heart attack.

            Glen Bordas


            • #7
              I would rather sweat a little more (both in the treadmill and in my bunkers) than runt he risk of a severe burn from wearing long coat and 3/4 boots.

              My 2 cents


              • #8
                Brother Glen,

                If you want to burn your nuts off in a fire, that is your choice. There are alot more variables associated with the FDNY guys dying from heart attacks. I think FDNY mandated the gear in 1995. Since then I can think of 4 people who died of heart attacks. the 3 in the lasst 3 months and a guy from E-39 who wasnt even wearing gear. Up till now, in the 4+ years of use, no one died. I'm willing to bet my bunkers that these guys had some heart problem that wasnt found in their exam. My dad is on the job in FDNY. I know those tests arent 100% thorough. If they had arteiosclarosis or some other heart defect, they could have slipped through the cracks of the "watchful eye" of the medical office.. Bunker gear is not better because it is newer, it is better because it had drastically reduced burns. Wear what you want wherever it is you run fires.... but leave me a set of Morningpride running pants and a coat anytime. I guarantee healthier fireman wont die because of bunker gear...

                Cousin Vinny
                Kentland VFD Co. 33

                [This message has been edited by CousinVinny354 (edited 01-17-2001).]


                • #9
                  Nozzlehog has definitely picked a hot topic and I see spirited debate coming from both sides. I really think some tradition in the fire service should be held onto, like helmets, red fire apparatus and so forth. However, being an instructor I think technology and safety are paramount in this day and age. I commented on the thread about the hoods and read both sides of the argument, I'll still wear mine. As far as turnout gear, this is not new stuff, many departments have been using them since the late seventies. I too am very concerned about the LODD rate with heart attacks, but you can't blame it all on the gear. No matter how well the departments fitness plan is set up, you can't make the guys eat right or exercise if they don't want to. Not knowing the particulars on the last two cases FDNY had I can't comment on the cause of those but I've seen guys on my department have them (heart attacks) and I thought these guys were in OK shape and they past their physicals every time, the thing is none of them were even in turnout gear at the time. So, for me, I'll keep running my five miles a day and work out and keep my full protective envelope.

                  Views stated do not reflect that of my department or local.


                  • #10
                    Cousin Vinny -

                    I am not on some vandetta to get burned in a fire. I do as much as I can to be safe. You have some very valid points that I agree with. Full protective gear isn't the only cause of heart attacks but I feel it has certainly contibuted to the onset of them. There are guys on the job who are subject to heart attacks who eat right and are healthy with no prior history or family history of heart problems. It is brought on by the extreme physical tasks we exhert on ourselves when operating at a fire. Is' not just the tasks either; Atmosphere both inside and outside play a factor. Why do you think that the FDNY has incorporated shorts as part of the uniform during the summer months?, Because wearing full bunker gear in 90 degree heat gets damn hot whether you're in a fire or not.

                    Every month I read in various fire training magazines and see the column of recent LODD's; Statistically the numbers are very high in deaths related to heart attacks. Some cases it may be because they were out of shape or had a prior history of it. Okay so maybe an 82 year old volunteer fireman shouldn't be responding but what about the 26 year old? What about the guys who were in good shape? The onset of a heart attack doesn't have to occur right at the scene of a job. It can occur anytime after. A fellow jake in Boston had heart attack reacting to the alarm tone in the firehouse.

                    The advantage, as far as keeping cool, of the long coat and pull up boots is that you can pull the boots down to cool off and the coat was open enough for air to circulate. I think that fire departments need to institute more action towards r&r at a fire scenes enforcing the two bottle limit rule and having the Paramedics check your vitals when you take a blow.

                    I personally like full bunker gear and the protection that it provides.

                    There are certain preventative measures taken to lower the risks of a heart attack but don't think that because you follow those measures that you aren't at risk.

                    Take care down there in Maryland Brother.



                    • #11
                      In the experience I have had, there have been many situations where my FULL bunker gear has saved by bacon. I have been in mobile home fires that were hotter than any stick-built house fire I have seen. Granted, the new gear lets us go deeper into the fire, but it also lets us get to the main seat of the fire too. If we can't get to the fire, how do we put it out? The days of 3/4 boots and long coats went out when SCBA was made mandatory by OSHA and NFPA.

                      I am not even going to address the hood issue, because we have done that before. But I always wear ALL my bunker gear from initial attack until the overhaul is done. If I am in rehab, then I take off the pack and the coat and hood and helmet and cool down. If firefighters not only keep in shape (other than round) but also rehab properly, then the added stress of the bunker gear is not a real problem. Our policy is if you burn a bottle in the fire, you go to rehab for at least 15 minutes to cool off and drink some water. This way, you have a firefighter working approximately 20 minutes and then resting for 15 with rehydration. This allows the body time to recover from the load. If a firefighter doesn't rehab, like we are all guilty of doing ("hey, change my bottle. I'm going back in"), then the stresses put on the body can add up quickly and the heart can't take it.

                      Before I even consider wearing anything but full bunker gear, I would have to see some serious test results not only about the health of the firefighters, but on how many fires were lost because the firefighters couldn't get to the seat of the fire due to extreme heat.

                      *****The opinions expressed are mine and do not necessarily reflect those of my department********


                      • #12
                        I wore 3/4 boots and a coat without a liner 20 years ago.

                        I have worn full bunkers, hood etc. (that dangerous Reed hood at that)for the last 15 or so, and I am a much more effective firefighter now. I also go home in the morning with all my skin intact.

                        Wear whatcha want.....unless you're backing me up, then I would prefer you were dressed like me.

                        Best of luck......


                        • #13
                          I have used both bunkers and the 3/4 boots in my firefighting career and personally, I prefer the bunker gear.


                          • #14
                            It's a give and take on both sides of the issue. I agree that the bunker gear tends to lead us "deeper" into the fire, but you can control that by not wearing the hood so you can feel the heat. Also, for us it is mandatory that when you come out of the building and are in the safety zone, the coat comes open and the helmet comes off. Cool down the core before you suit back up. Also, I remember wearing the pull ups but back then houses were make of wood. Temps were around the 1000 degree mark at the ceiling. Today's materials burn MUCH hotter and I personally like the extra protection of bunkers. You just gotta know your limits.


                            • #15
                              Let me put my 2 cents in on this matter. I am only 19 and have been a firefighter for 1 year, and an explorer for 4 years before that. I have only worn bunker gear. A freind of mine had his dad go to hthe hospital for heart trouble. He was talking to the dr and the dr told him the heart attacks are 90% heredatary. Diet, stress and other things do deal with it. So how can somebody sit here and blame it on bunker gear. That is just a bunch of bull. There has been talk of being able to stay cooler in hip boots, and that they are lighter. I will admit, they they are cooler and lighter from the sight of them, but they do not offer any where near as much protection. I mean hell they are called 3/4 boots. That means 1/4 of your legs are still exposed. I dont care how long the coat is. I would like to hear the comments of any firefighters that are on the Chicago FD. They are the only FD that I know of that still uses mainly hip boots, that is all I ever remember them having and I grew up right outside of Chicago. I am sorry, but this is 2001. My dad was wearing hip boots back in the early 80's. I have seen this written in another topic. Do we want to use 80's technoliagy in 2001. I know I dont.

                              George Hagerty


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