When you make the commitment to become an Alpha Volunteer Firefighter, one of the first things you learn going in is that you’re going to gain weight. But unlike the “freshman fifteen” or overdoing the holidays, this weight is temporary, even though it’s constant when you go to a fire scene or emergency.
It’s the weight you gain every time you answer a call by wearing the vital Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that allows us to do our jobs as safely as possible. Let’s take a look at the turnout gear that’s standard issue to every Alpha.
PPE Has You Covered From Head To Toe.
While you’ll still certainly see leather helmets from time to time, modern helmets are heavy-duty plastic with an attached, fire-retardant neck/ear flap that looks a lot like the dangling flaps on a serious hunting cap. Some firefighters store items on their helmets like flashlights, lipstick cameras, wedges to chock doors open, or goggles for extra eye protection during vehicle extrications.
Pants & Coat:
Clad in a fire-retardant material like Nomex or Kevlar, the signature bunker coat and pants firefighters wear are multi-layered feats of apparel engineering. The outer layer features reinforced, flexible joints and tear resistant properties—and traditionally has reflective striping for enhanced visibility in dark environments. (Coats, pants and helmets all carry this striping—vital for thick smoke or night time operations).
The second layer features a water-repellent material to keep water off the skin of the firefighter, and the innermost layer is a thermal protective barrier designed to insulate from intense heat. A new full turnout set alone can cost over 2,000 dollars.
Self Contained Breathing Apparatus, (SCBA) consists of an air tank, regulator (breather), air hose and broad-windowed, padded facemask that goes over the firefighter’s head. It provides a constant flow of positive air pressure into the mask, and is worn using a thick over the shoulder harness that distributes the weight evenly. Tanks last up to a half hour, but during direct response and exertion, can empty in about 15 minutes.
Hood, Gloves & Boots:
A fire-resistant fabric hood pulls over the head, ears and neck to create a seal around the SCBA mask. Fireman’s boots are made of insulated rubber or leather and much like a construction worker’s boots, are outfitted with steel toes and protective shanks to guard against crushing and piercing hazards. Insulated leather, Nomex or Kevlar gloves also feature layers of waterproofing and thermal protection—vaguely reminiscent of the kinds of gloves hockey players wear.
The Weight We Carry So We Can Carry Out Our Jobs.
So how much weight are you going to gain? Depending upon optional accessories you may need to carry with you on the scene (a fire axe or Halligan bar, for example
), Alpha Volunteers go to work with an extra 50 to 75 pounds of gear—specially designed and neatly distributed from head to toe.
Standard PPE gear — helmet, hood, pants, coat, gloves, boots and air pack – automatically add about 45-50 pounds to your person. Accessories like thermal imaging cameras, radios, lights, safety lines and utility irons can add 25 pounds to your haul.
And that doesn’t take into consideration the weight of the gear when it gets wet.
Now you know why we train so regularly and have a gym at the station! What we’re carrying on our shoulders isn’t just equipment. We’re also carrying our responsibility to tackle any emergency as safely as possible for the benefit of the region and the people we serve. And in that respect?
We welcome the weight gain. Learn more about what it takes to become an Alpha
DID YOU KNOW….
You’ll often hear PPE referred to as “bunker gear” or “turnout gear.” “Bunker Gear” comes from the days of “full time” companies when gear was stored next to a firefighter’s bunk; “Turnout Gear” refers to “turning out” the fire pants over the top of the boots—allowing the firefighter to step directly into the boots and pull the pants and suspenders up in one deft move.