Firefighters seek donations for waterproof jackets

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BRATTLEBORO — The Brattleboro Fire Department is hoping to purchase special waterproof jackets for non-fire-related calls, but there's no line item for them in the budget this year.

The 22 5.11 Hi-Vis Parkas cost $289 each and are waterproof and protect the wearers from bodily fluids, such as blood.

The BFD is seeking donations to help cover the $6,000 cost. The fire department has received donations from Auto Mall, Kings Electric, Shoe Tree, M.K Richardson Insurance and two private donors, said Howard.

"We didn't go to the town for the money because we thought if we could do it this way, it would help lessen the tax burden on the

taxpayer," said Leonard "Lennie" Howard, assistant fire chief.

The Brattleboro Fire Department has what is called turnout gear for each firefighter, which includes fire-resistant clothing, boots and gloves, oxygen pack, tools and other items. The turnout gear costs between $4,000 and $5,000 for each set. The jackets the BFD is seeking donations for will be used for any responses other than fire calls, such as traffic accidents or health calls.

"Turnout gear is only good for about 10 years," said Howard, and there is a capital budget for replacement of gear as it's worn out. "We've got reflective coats, but they're not waterproof or protective of bodily fluids. We feel it's time to get the right thing."

The high-visibility jackets the BFD hopes to add to its gear are desirable, but not essential, said Town Manager Peter Elwell.

"We buy all the protective gear that is essential for firefighter safety through the town's budget," he said. "Sometimes the department seeks donations or grants for items that they would like to have but which they do not think are justified as a cost imposed on town taxpayers. In the case of these coats, that cost would exceed $6,000 and the department decided it was more appropriate to seek donations than to seek that funding through the town's budget process."

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Howard said he and other firefighters are closely watching recent news about old turnout gear, produced prior to 2015, that might have been treated with perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoralkyl, collectively known as PFAs.

In 2017, Cincinnati lawyer Robert A. Bilott sent a 196-page letter to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Attorney General's Office, and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, an agency in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, demanding national testing and studies of firefighters exposed to the chemicals.

"Even though the toxicity of these chemicals has been well-known by certain manufacturers for quite some time, it is not something that was told to the people who are actually using these materials," Bilott said.

In 2015, manufacturers of turnout gear phased out PFAs and began treating the gear with a chemical known as C6.

Last year, Congress approved and the president signed into law the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act of 2018, which requires the CDC to develop and maintain a voluntary registry of firefighters that includes the number and type of fires each firefighter attended. Information in the registry will be used to improve monitoring of cancer incidents among firefighters and to collect and publish information about the occurrences of cancer among this population.

But Howard said many organizations that monitor and advocate for the health and safety of firefighters are more concerned about the residue their turnout gear might be coated in when the firefighters return to the station.

"The National Fire Protection Association is recommending that we have two sets of gear for our members," said Howard. "That way when we return from a fire, we can clean them and let them dry, but have another set for backup."

If you would like to make a donation to help the BFD purchase the high-visibility jackets, contact Howard at 802-254-4831 or lhoward@brattleboro.org.

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or raudette@reformer.com.


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