Last week, we took a look at some of the most pressing issues the fire service faces throughout the nation, with budget cuts and layoffs galore. But this week, I thought it was necessary to bring the story of cuts a bit closer to home.
In recent months, government bodies across the county have moved to cut funding to departments, and are scrutinizing the fire service for what some call “frivolous spending” and “unnecessarily large budgets.” But often times, these elected officials, government leaders, and those seeking office often assume that large spending equals unnecessary spending.
The lower the budget, the better the service is to taxpayers, some seem to think. Many of those in power don’t understand the shear cost it takes to run an effective department.
In this week’s column, I’ve decided to try and break down the enormous cost of the fire service into something relevant – a single firefighter. Hopefully, with the conclusion of this column, both those in power and the average citizen alike will better understand where their funding goes in the fire service in Cape May County.
Here is new volunteer John Doe. John is joining the fire service for the first time. In order for John to be able to respond from his home at any given time to assist in an emergency, he is provided a pager from the department, which will alert him of an incident. The average cost of a pager and charger for the pager is in the range of $500. Pager: $500.
Next, John will have to have the proper gear to be able to safely and effectively protect himself from the many dangers that are encountered in the field of fire service. The department begins to purchase gear for John to wear during his firefighting duties.
First, he’ll need a set of turnout gear.
Firefighters wear specially designed jackets and pants, made of fire-resistant Nomex-Kevlar material, to protect them from extremely high temperatures and other conditions they may encounter as a firefighter. This material is a tough material constructed to withstand serious use, and is tear-resistant.
Depending on the brand, style, and other considerations, the average combination of firefighter jacket can cost anywhere from $1,200-$2,500. We’ll take an average. Firefighter Jacket/Pants Combo: $1,800.
Next, John will need a firefighter hood and two sets of firefighter gloves for his turnout gear. Firefighters also wear special Nomex hoods to protect their neck and facial area from intense flames. This hood is worn beneath the helmet. Firefighters also typically use two sets of gloves, one specifically worn while fighting fires, made of Nomex fire-resistant material, while they wear a separate set for motor vehicle accidents, typically referred to as extrication gloves. These gloves are specially designed withstand the wear and tear that vehicles present. Each pair of gloves can cost from $35-$100 a piece. Nomex Hood, Fire Gloves, & Extrication Gloves: $150.
John will need some shoes to wear with his turnout gear, of course. Leather fire boots are typically the shoe-wear of choice for firefighters, with these boots running anywhere from $200-$450 dollars, depending on brand and quality. Fire Boots: $300.
In order to protect his head, John will also need a helmet. Fire helmets typically run in the range of $300 a piece, but prices can vary due to style. Fire helmet: $300.
To complete the firefighter’s personal gear, John will need an air pack, more commonly referred to in the fire service as Self Contained Breathing Apparatus, or SCBA. Similar to the oxygen systems used to supply divers, firefighter SCBAs feature cylinders filled with pressurized breathing air so that firefighters can adequately breathe without inhaling smoke and other toxins associated with fire. SCBAs are extremely expensive, with each SCBA unit & mask costing in the ballpark of $5,000 per set. Each firefighter normally will use at least two cylinders on the scene of fire, and each spare cylinder costs in the area of $1,500.
SCBA Unit, Mask, & Spare Cylinder: $6,500.
Finally, in order to safely operate and perform his required duties, the fire department will send John to various training classes. Although John will undoubtedly attend countless classes, he will be required to undergo the New Jersey Firefighter I program before become a certified interior firefighter. This program, run at area county fire academies, typically costs within the range of $200-$300. Firefighter I Training: $250.
So, after John has received his pager, jacket and pants, hood and gloves, boots, helmet, SCBA with spare bottle, and his required training, he has accumulated a total cost of $12,500.
That’s $12,500 for a single firefighter. Which each department normally averaging at least 20 firefighters, that’s approximately $250,000 for simply outfitting a firefighter to safe standards for firefighting operations. We haven’t even touched apparatus, tools, servicing, supplies, and various other expenses that departments across the county incur each year.
If you expect firefighters to respond to an emergency, they need to have adequate equipment. If they can’t respond to an emergency without worrying about their own safety, how can you ask them to worry about yours? Before calling for cuts to the budget, consider the facts.
Knoll, 19, of Eldora, can be contacted by email at bknolljr4cmcherald@ ahoo.com. He is a student at Rowan University.