SPOKANE, Wash. – If not for the protective gear that saved him, Spokane Fire Department firefighter Chuck McKenzie could have died when he was burned in an apartment fire in North Spokane in September.
Nearly two months later, SFD officials said they remain committed to repairing and improving their gear.
What happens to the gear when it gets anything from a tear to a life-threatening heat damage?
“We really are the tip of the spear,” said Alex Dreager, a firefighter for the SFD and helps sews the gear for the crew.
“We are all dedicated to making the gear better and the best that it can be,” he said.
It is not too often you will see a room in a fire station dedicated to patching things up.
Dreager is one of the few men that work in the tarp room. Originally the team just patched up, you guessed it, tarps. Somewhere in the past, gear was added to the list.
“We have around 15-20 pieces of gear a month.”
With 300 firefighters and two sets of gear a piece, that adds up to 600 sets of turnouts. Other fire agencies have to send their damaged gear to get fixed.
At Station 17, Dreager not only repairs gear, he looks for ways to improve it – like in the case of McKenzie.
“That gear performed exactly the way it was supposed to although he was burned seriously,” he said. “had the gear not done its job, it would have been a much more dangerous burn or a career-ending injury.”
Dreager said McKenzie’s gear has been taken to another facility to be looked at further on how they can improve their gear.
McKenzie returned to work on light duty in October and said he hopes to get back out fighting fires soon.