In the early 1970s, few Richmond County firefighters used an air tank, although they were available.
And then there was the polyester.
"It's changed drastically," Deputy Chief Rogers said. "We used to wear these cotton-polyester blends, and if they got hot enough they could melt right to your skin."
When they're responding to an emergency, Richmond County firefighters are typically wearing or carrying more than $10,000 in clothing and equipment. Most of the expense comes from the fire-retardant clothing and the breathing equipment issued to recruits when they join the department. Keeping the equipment in working condition is a constant problem and expense.
Smoke-filled houses and 100-plus-degree temperatures don't make for the ideal working environment, Deputy Chief Rogers said.
"If they damage something in a fire, we replace it for them, but if they lost it through negligence then they're responsible for it," he said.
Firefighters wear either their uniform or sleepwear during their shift. If they are called to a fire, the emergency equipment, or "bunker gear," is put on over the clothes.
The bunker coat and pants consist of three separate layers that insulate the firefighter from extreme heat.
"The biggest concern for us is the safety of the firefighter and their comfort as well," Deputy Chief Rogers said.
After a year on the job, each firefighter is given a $350 stipend for uniform expenses.
The department, however, foots the bill for any gear replacements and upgrades. Recently, it spent about $650,000 to bring its air tanks into compliance with the National Fire Protection Association standards. Deputy Chief Rogers explained that the new tanks will now emit a loud siren if a firefighter falls and remains down for more than 30 seconds.
Reach Adam Folk at (706) 823-3339 or firstname.lastname@example.org.