Schenectady County

Schenectady firefighters’ gear found to be insufficient

The city has to repair or replace at least half of its firefighters’ turnout gear after discovering

The city has to repair or replace at least half of its firefighters’ turnout gear after discovering that many of the jackets and pants could no longer hold up in a fire.

The vapor barrier inside the gear, which protects firefighters from steam burns, is wearing out. That means firefighters who hold hoses at a fire are at risk of being scalded by the clouds of steam created when the water hits the fire.

“Let’s say you’re in a burning room. You’re holding the hose on the fire. Now you hit it with the water. Now you’re in a room full of steam,” firefighter union President David Orr said.

Without the vapor barrier, that steam will burn the firefighter instantly. Steam burns are so pervasive that firefighters commonly get them if they don’t cover every inch of skin with clothing that includes a functional vapor barrier, Orr said.

The situation is so serious that acting Mayor Gary McCarthy ordered that every piece of gear — every jacket and every pair of pants — be inspected after several dozen pieces failed a routine inspection.

The department has borrowed new gear from Globe, the company that makes Schenectady’s gear. Globe is now repairing many of the jackets and pants that failed the first inspection.

The city could simply buy new gear, but “easily” 60 sets would be needed, Orr said. That would cost $90,000 to $114,000, depending on what additional safety measures are built into the gear. One set costs $1,500 to $1,900.

“In a flush budget, sure, it can be done easily,” Orr said.

But the city has already cut every department budget, and the City Council is trying to cut $1 million from its $6.9 million proposed for borrowing next year. The cut would allow the city to stay within recommended debt guidelines, but it means that finding an extra $100,000 is no longer a simple matter.

So inspectors are determining which gear can be repaired and at what cost. So far, only one set needed to be entirely replaced. But some others cost so much to repair that it might make better financial sense to replace them.

“Our intent in testing the gear was to try to work within a limited budget,” Orr said. “But repair, that’s really only a short-term solution.”

The city has already applied for a grant to buy new gear, but the results won’t be announced until next summer.

That’s too long to wait.

“We do need them right now,” Orr said.

City Council members said they intend to buy whatever is needed — but they have not yet decided what to cut in its place. Budget committee Chairman Thomas Della Sala said he’s still waiting for final cost estimates. The last estimate showed that the cost was going down as firefighters found more pieces that could be repaired.

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