The Augusta Fire Department sees room for improvement, so it’s updating uniforms to meet national standards and breathing new life into old equipment.
On Nov. 19, the Augusta Commission approved the department’s request of $261,390 to be spent on National Fire Prevention Association-approved uniforms for its firefighters and to refurbish a ladder truck that has sat dormant for years.
“The NFPA says a uniform should be made of Nomex or 100 percent cotton,” Fire Chief Chris James said. “The uniforms the firefighters have been wearing throughout my service in Augusta have always been a poly-cotton blend, which does not meet the standard. Of course, polyester will melt when heat gets to it.”
The newer, cotton-based uniforms will hold up better in high-heat situations, James said, which will more likely reduce injuries. When polyester melts, the material adheres to the skin, causing severe burns and making it difficult to remove.
Firefighters will stay cooler during summer months with the introduction of new “tactical polos,” which are similar to golf shirts, James said. The traditional shirts the employees have worn over the years will return during the winter.
The new uniforms will shed metal badges in favor of embroidered names and logos because the brass used in the past worked as a heat conductor.
Deputy Chief Sterling Jones said the department took the change in material as an opportunity to update the color of the uniforms.
In the past, the Augusta Fire Department has dressed its firefighters in dark-blue pants with light-blue shirts. The department hopes to change the shirts from light blue to dark blue by summer, Jones said.
“As far as aesthetics go, I think the dark blue looks very sharp,” he said.
Jones said the department formed a uniform committee of firefighters to determine what changes they would like to see in uniforms. Many expressed concern that current uniforms are too similar to those worn by other city services, including those used by Public Transit bus drivers.
“If you looked at them side by side, it was the same exact work shirt,” Jones said. “They wanted to make sure that they stood out and looked different because the services were different.”
The bulk of the money requested – about $160,000 – will be put toward refurbishing a decommissioned aerial ladder truck that sits at the Station No. 3 on Reynolds Street.
James said the truck is built to be steered by two firefighters – one in the front of the vehicle and one in the rear – allowing fire crews to easily navigate the narrow streets of downtown Augusta. The department has five aerial ladder trucks stationed around Augusta but hopes to introduce a sixth in the near future.
The truck, which was purchased in the early 1990s, developed mechanical problems and was declared unfit for duty and decommissioned.
Newer aerial trucks carry a price tag of more than $1 million, James said, and auctioning off the truck would fetch less money than it’s worth. After speaking with several companies, James said it was in the department’s best interest to rejuvenate the aging vehicle.
“Under the refurbishment, they would redo the engine and transmission,” he said. “They would strip the truck down to its bare essentials. The interior would come out, and they would put brand new stuff in.”
The truck would be fitted with a new suspension system to eliminate rear axle bounce. The upgrade would include testing the aerial ladder to make sure it is in working order and adding a fresh coat of paint.
“That would allow us to put that aerial ladder back in service downtown,” James said. “The aerial ladder that is there now, we hope, can be moved to south Augusta.”
James said the department recently added an aerial ladder truck to Station No. 19 on Brown Road, which was the first aerial truck south of Tobacco Road. Previously, aerial trucks had to drive from either west Augusta or downtown to respond to fires in south Augusta.
The addition of a second truck in south Augusta will greatly reduce the time it takes for fire personnel to respond.
“We won’t have to send those aerial ladders from west Augusta or downtown because they will already have ladders there,”
Before any of that happens, though, the department will have to create a bid packet for the refurbishment of the ladder truck, which would then have to be sent out for procurement. There is no timeline yet as to how long the refurbishment might take.