City OKs $15k purchase of firefighter equipment

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Funds will come from contingency capital outlay

BUCKHANNON — Buckhannon City Council on Thursday approved an unexpected expenditure in the amount of $15,000 for new turnout gear for city firefighters.

After hearing an appeal from interim fire chief J.B. Kimble, council unanimously voted to pull the $15,000 from its 2017-2018 fiscal year contingency capital outlay fund to pay for new turnout gear for the city’s six paid firefighters, including Kimble.

Turnout gear is the outfit, helmet, hood and boots firefighters wear to protect themselves when responding to fires, vehicle wrecks and emergencies of other sorts. Kimble said all too often, turnout gear doesn’t have time to properly dry out before firefighters must put it back on to respond to another incident. He asked that new turnout gear be purchased for the six paid firefighters, who could then use their current turnout gear as a backup when multiple emergencies occur on the same day.

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s winter or summer, our turnout gear is kind of like our bulletproof vest for police officers,” Kimble said. “It’s our protection.”

In the summer, firefighters often get “steam burns,” which can be caused by responding to a brush fire or car wreck and subsequently being called to assist with a structure fire.

“When you have moisture inside your gear, and then you’re in a terrible atmosphere … with heated gases … that moisture is locked in that gear and can burn you from the inside,” Kimble explained. “Through the month of December we had numerous fires where our on-duty staff responded, and they get soaking wet. Then you come back and it’s minus 4 degrees, and the next thing you know, you have a car wreck or something else and you have to put that wet gear back on and it doesn’t go on properly because it’s soaking wet or frozen.”

Kimble said if turnout gear gets completely soaked or frozen, it takes about 48 hours for it to properly dry out, and direct sunlight can’t be used to hasten the process because it deteriorates the material.

Kimble also said gear that has just been used can contain trapped carcinogens, which have caused cancer among fire department members in some states, including about 11 percent of the 1,800 firefighters in Columbus, Ohio.

“The carcinogens that you get on your gear, your hood, your helmet, that’s the stuff that’s causing these guys to have throat cancer and stuff like that,” Kimble said, “because you put on that helmet, and it still has the dirt on it from the fire you were at yesterday or this morning, and it can be absorbed through sweating.

“The benefit of having a second set of gear is that it’ll be clean and then, if I’m responding to your house, I don’t have to wear my wet, dirty gear,” he added.

Kimble said the cost of one set of turnout gear ranges from about $2,500 to $3,000. He presented two bids to council — one from Witmer Public Safety group for $14,167.68 and a second from a newer supplier, Gibson Fire Supplies, for $13,749.48.

Councilman David Thomas said he thought allocating money for the purchase was a necessity.

“Based on your description and what you’re saying about Columbus, Ohio, I think the city should dip into our surplus and get second turnout gear for everybody,” Thomas said.

Financial and administrative director Amberle Jenkins said the fire department doesn’t have any extra money for the purchase in its regular 2017-2018 budget because it had to replace a ladder truck in 2017. However, Jenkins said the city did have some money available in its 2017-2018 contingency capital outlay fund — about $28,000. Contingency capital outlay is the amount the city sets aside each fiscal year after it balances revenues and expenditures for any unexpected or emergency expenses. Its “rainy day fund” is analogous to a long-term savings account that can be used in the case of emergencies or “rainy days.”

“I don’t think you want to do rainy day (fund), but you have a contingency … and you have about $28,000 in there,” Jenkins said. “You have $500,000 in your rainy day fund.”

Councilman Robbie Skinner said he stopped at the fire department in early January following a structure fire on Marion Street to check on the firefighters.

“J.B. showed me their gear, and it was dripping wet,” Skinner recalled. “There was water all over the floor. That’s pretty dangerous to get back in, really. What if we’d had a catastrophe again? … We want what’s best for our shareholders and the folks that live in this community that we’re investing in, and this is a major investment in people’s property and lives, and I think this is something we need to figure out a way to do.”

Thomas added, “I don’t think there’s a choice.”

Mayor David McCauley noted that if council allocated the $15,000, it would only have $13,000 in contingency funds until July 1, 2018, when the new 2018-2019 fiscal year will begin.

“That’s cutting it pretty close,” the mayor said. “We do have $500,000 in our rainy day fund if we really get in a pinch.”

Thomas made a motion to approve the expenditure, which was seconded by councilwoman Pam Cuppari prior to passing unanimously.

The funds can’t be transferred until Jenkins presents an official budget revision to the 2017-2018 budget, which council must approve at its Feb. 15 meeting.

“I just wish I would have known about this sooner,” Thomas remarked. “Thanks, J.B.”

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