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Grants to help buy protective firefighter gear

JACKSONVILLE — A total of $15,000 in grants will allow the city's Fire Department to purchase eight new sets of fire turnouts, the safety pants and coats firefighters wear in emergency situations.

The Robert and Francis Chaney Family Foundation of Jacksonville has awarded the department $10,000 over two years for the equipment. Volunteer Engine Company No. 1, a charitable group in town that aids the department, will donate $5,000 next year toward the sets. The sets of turnouts cost $1,700 each.

The funds will allow the department to keep its equipment up to date and lower concerns if the turnouts are damaged, said Fire Chief Devin Hull, who secured the Chaney grant.

"I could ruin five of those sets tomorrow," said Hull.

"I could go to a Hazmat (hazardous materials) call and end up having to throw all of those away because they could be damaged or contaminated."

Jacksonville has adopted a five-year replacement cycle recommend by the National Fire Protection Association, but Hull said it has been challenging to meet that standard. "Some of (the sets) were extended past that," said Hull. "We had so many sets to replace we were behind on the five-year cycle."

Each of the 17 volunteer firefighters will have a set of turnouts. The six department employees also have their own turnouts.

Turnouts can have a life of five to 10 years, depending on care and exposure to fires, chemicals and other hazards the department encounters in its work, said Hull.

The latest technology is incorporated into the new turnouts, which will arrive in January. "They are lighter and more breathable," said Hull. "Those things translate into reducing firefighter fatigue."

The outer surface of the suits is a kevlar blend that is fire-resistant. But the material can be damaged by flames, extreme heat or sharp metal objects such as springs in couches and chairs. Fumes from couch fires and other burring household materials also can damage the turnouts.

An inner liner offers heat resistance and includes GORE-TEX that helps keep steam out of the inside while allowing sweat to go the other direction.

The department's equipment fund will cover turnout costs beyond the $5,000 awarded by the foundation in October. Because of the grant, the department will be able to carry more than $3,200 in the equipment fund to next year's budget.

Next October the foundation will award the other $5,000, which will be paired with the Engine Company No. 1 funds for the purchase of the additional sets.

"The trustees believed that there was a high need in Jacksonville and are excited to support that," said Carrie Hanson, the foundation's executive director.

In the fall of 2009 the foundation granted $5,000 to the department for a Holmatro rescue tool.

The Robert and Francis Chaney Family Foundation grants support public safety providers, and families and children in Jackson and Josephine counties, Barry County, Mo., and Cabell County, W.Va.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.