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Keeping firefighters safe key to suit replacement

Oak Bay firefighter Mike Josephson gets measured up for new turnout gear by manufacturer’s rep Ed Wilding at the fire hall. Wilding was on site getting specs for replacement gear for a handful of Oak Bay firefighters.

In the officers’ room at Oak Bay fire hall, there are no racks full of suits, no mirrors to check the fit and look of a sports jacket or shirt.

Yet Ed Wilding is going about his business as a haberdasher would, wrapping his tape measure around firefighter Mike Josephson’s chest and waist.

Wilding, a manufacturer’s rep for Burnaby-based Associated Fire and Safety, is on site getting specs for replacement turnout suits for a handful of Oak Bay firefighters.

Rob Kivell, acting assistant chief on this day and awaiting his turn to get measured, stressed the importance of properly sized gear.

“Poorly fitted turnout gear can add to fatigue, because if (it’s ill-fitted), you’re fighting it,” he said.

Kivell has been a firefighter for nearly 20 years, including the last 13 in Oak Bay. During his career he’s seen lighter weight materials utilized to help maximize firefighters’ mobility and lessen the fatigue factor.

On the other hand, he says improvements to the equipment can have an adverse effect in that firefighters can sometimes feel safer than they are in a fire situation.

Regardless of advances that offer more protection from heat – suits can sustain exposure to hundreds of degrees – the same principles for safety apply.

Josephson is getting sized up for his second set of turnout gear since he joined the department nine years ago. That’s pretty close to the 10-year hoped-for lifespan of the suits, Kivell noted.

Wilding pointed out a proper fit enhances the chances of achieving that goal. These days, young firefighters tend to be “a little aggressive” with their equipment, he says, and the suits wear out sooner.

Oak Bay fire has 26 sets of turnout gear on hand. For budgetary as well as practical reasons, five sets on average are replaced each year – the current cost is about $1,800 per firefighter.

Full turnout gear includes jackets, pants, balaclavas, gloves and helmets. The suits are made in Toronto and take between six and eight weeks to complete and be shipped back.