Firefighting is a hazardous profession and one of the ways to reduce the risks to the individual firefighter is through the provision of the right equipment. You may be wondering if that turnout/bunker equipment is expensive? Well, we can confirm that it can be.
The exact cost of firefighter turnout/bunker gear depends on the type of fires being fought and the brands/nature of the equipment used. However, a firefighter’s personal gear can range from about $3000 up to $10,000 or more!
Yup, that’s not including the cost of fire engines, firefighting gear, etc. this is simply the gear that a firefighter must wear to protect themselves and their lungs while fighting fires. It’s fair to say this isn’t cheap and if you’re wondering where all the money goes – we’ll break it down for you.
The Cost Of Firefighter Turnout/Bunker Gear
Turnout gear is the basic gear that a firefighter must wear to every fire. It does not include the self-contained breathing apparatus which we will detail separately. That’s because there are enough SCBAs on the fire engine or truck and each firefighter is not usually issued their own.
So, what is included in turnout gear?
- Firefighter’s turnout/bunker coat: As you might expect it’s quite important for a firefighter’s jacket to be fire resistant and we don’t mean a little bit, either. A firefighter faces extremely high temperatures on the job and the material must not catch fire or worse, melt, while the firefighter carries out their duties. Typically, this will mean that their jacket is made of multiple layers including Nomex-Kevlar which is light enough to wear but is strong enough to stand up to fires and to heavy-duty wear and tear. It’s not cheap.
- Firefighter’s turnout/bunker pants: The firefighter’s pants have all the same demands on them as his or her jacket would and, in fact, are typically made from the same material as the jacket, Nomex-Kevlar. Between the pants and the jacket, you’d need to spend between $1,200 and $2,500 on the pair. This varies due to size, brand, special modifications, etc.
- Firefighter’s flash/PBI hood: This isn’t a vanity purchase. As you might expect a firefighter’s neck and face are also at risk from burn injuries and in order to protect themselves against these risks, most firefighters will need a flash/PBI hood. This is made from another Nomex-based material and can cost up to $100. Read: Best Firefighter Particulate Hoods
- Firefighter’s structure and extrication gloves: Firefighters need two different sets of gloves. The first is a Nomex-based pair which is used when tackling fires. Like these. They are worn mainly for their fire resistance. They also need a pair that is used when extricating people from crashed vehicles (read: Why Do Firefighters Respond to Car Accidents?). Like these. They prevent the firefighter’s hands from being lacerated on metal or glass. Each pair can cost up to $100 each.
- Fire fighter’s structure boots: It’s easy to forget but a firefighter’s feet also need protection and a firefighter’s boots are not cheap. They are normally made of strong leather with fire protective soles and can cost up to $550! Something like these.
- Fire fighter’s helmet: The last piece of turnout gear that your average firefighter will need is a protective helmet. This is to prevent them from being knocked unconscious when things fall on them more than it is to protect them from fire. These come in at around $300 each! But some firefighters opt for a traditional leather helmet like this one, which can be over $1000!
So, based on our costs – the turnout gear alone can cost up to $3000 or more!
For more information about firefighter protective gear, read: How Do Firefighters Not Overheat?
The Cost Of Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA)
When working to extinguish a structure fire, modern firefighters wear a mask and air pack to protect their face and lungs. These are called self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBAs).
These provide the firefighter with a clean supply of pressurized air that prevents them from inhaling any toxic smoke or other contaminants.
For more information about SCBAs, read: Firefighter Air Tanks and Why They Don’t Explode
Unfortunately, an SCBA set up is, by far, the most expensive piece of personal protective equipment that a firefighter uses in the line of duty.
You would expect a basic SCBA unit with a single mask and cylinder to set you back around $5,000.
And that’s not all.
Firefighters will, usually, get through at least 2 and sometimes more cylinders when tackling a blaze. That’s an extra $1,500 per cylinder.
So, if a firefighter needs 3 cylinders while working – that’s a total cost of $8,000 for the SCBA! That’s more than twice as much as the cost of the turnout gear. But these are not issued to each firefighter, instead, they are carried on the fire engine and are used by the firefighters on duty that day.
The Cost To Stay In Touch: Pager + Charger
Most full-time, paid firefighters no longer use pagers. However, many volunteer fire departments still use them to alert their members when there is an emergency.
The pager is a uni-directional communication device. That is while a firefighter can receive a page on his or her pager, they cannot send a message in return.
The modern pager is a bit more advanced than the traditional pager that you might once have owned yourself. It broadcasts a very loud tone which is designed to wake up even the sleepiest of firefighters.
Then it transmits a recording from the dispatch operator which explains the nature of the call and where the fire (or other emergencies) they will be responding to is located.
They also come at a rather considerable cost. The city of St. Clair, for example, spent $300,000 on 500 pagers. That’s $600 a pager. Smaller cities found that their costs were even higher.
The estimate from Fort Gratiot Fire Chief Patrick Smith is that a pager will cost between $600 and $800. Yes, a pager can cost nearly as much as an iPhone!
Typical Cost Of Wildfire Equipment
As an example, Spring Valley Volunteer Fire Department has also put together an estimate of their costs for a firefighter’s kit and they’ve taken into account some additional costs. Their first estimate is for a fire fighter’s kit when fighting wildfires:
|Wildland Fire Boots||$300|
|Wildland Fire Gloves||$80|
|Wildland Fire Helmet||$180|
|Wildland Protective Coat||$250|
|Wildland Protective Pants||$250|
|Utility Belt Daypack||$250|
As you can see the total cost of a wildland firefighter’s gear is less than the structure fire turnout gear, that’s because a wildfire firefighter uses some very different equipment and has different priorities to a structural firefighter.
Typical Cost Of Structural Fire Equipment
Those folks at Spring Valley also put together an estimate of the costs of structural firefighting equipment:
|Structure Fire Boots||$300|
|(SCBA) Breathing Apparatus||$4,000|
|Structure Fire Turnout/Bunker Coat||$1,250|
|Structure Fire Turnout/Bunker Pants||$850|
|Structure Fire Gloves||$110|
|Halligan Entry Tool||$280|
|Spare Breathing Bottle||$1,000|
|Structure Fire Helmet||$425|
As you can see, structure fire gear is a lot more expensive. Also, remember than many firefighters will need both structural and wildland firefighting gear. This means the total cost could be up to $13,000 or more!
The Georgetown Breakdown
If you’re not convinced by our breakdown, you might find the breakdown of some of the costs of firefighting equipment provided by the Georgetown Volunteer Fire Department in Connecticut useful.
As you can see it’s very easy for people to wildly underestimate the costs of firefighting equipment. Even if something looks like something you already use (like boots) the actual costs of fire-safe versions can be much, much higher than you would expect.
Partly, this reflects the costs of manufacturing, but it also partly reflects the highly specialized nature (and thus lower demand) for these items. Most of us won’t be spending $550 on a pair of boots for fashion purposes but we’d probably spend that if it would keep us alive longer as firefighting boots will for fire fighters.
How much does firefighter gear cost? We can’t offer an exact number because as you’ve seen the costs can vary from firefighter to firefighter even within the same fire department and certainly between different functions.
However, a firefighter tackling wildfires needs approximately $3,000+ worth of personal equipment and a firefighter dealing with structural fires may need up to $12,500 worth of gear. It’s a lot of money, for sure, but you can’t put a price on the health & safety of a firefighter. It’s worth every penny.