By GINGER ADAMS OTIS
Courtesy of The Chief-Leader

The Fire Department will debut brand-new high-tech bunker gear for its Emergency Medical Service personnel by July 10, THE CHIEF-LEADER has learned.

The multi-million-dollar upgrade in protective gear for the FDNY's nearly 3,000 uniformed EMS members was funded primarily through a Department of Homeland Security grant.

Using Fire Gear Firm

The department selected manufacturer Morning Pride to provide the new gear over competing companies Globe and Lion. Morning Pride provides most of the turnout gear used by FDNY firefighters as well.

EMS Bureau Chief John J. Peruggia, who spoke to THE CHIEF-LEADER in April, when this paper first learned of plans to enhance EMS gear, said the change was indicative of the FDNY's commitment to member safety.

With EMS workers expected to play expanded roles in any citywide emergency response, including bio-terrorism and hazmat incidents, Chief Peruggia noted, having high-tech bunker gear was a modern necessity.

The turnout jackets, pants, boots and gloves are a major improvement over the simple overcoats EMS workers currently wear.

While a barrier against blood-borne pathogens, the long blue jackets aren't flameretardant, or even waterproof - EMS workers complain that the coats absorb water quickly and add another 10 pounds to their load on rainy days. A department source said the new Morning Pride gear is light years ahead of anything used by EMS Bureaus in other parts of the country.

Key Protections

The jackets, similar to those used by firefighters, are flame-retardant, protect against blood-borne pathogens, have high collars that can be turned up to button across the lower face and hoods that can be pulled down, as well as "flashover protection" to keep EMS workers from getting burned when responding to accident scenes.

The presence of a hood is a big plus for EMS members, who unlike firefighters don't carry their own oxygen tanks. EMS personnel generally are equipped with APR masks. Air-purifying respirators are designed to keep EMS workers safe long enough for them to escape from a bio-terrorism site, but aren't meant for longterm protection.

Although the hood won't filter air, it can help protect its wearer for a limited time in a radiological disaster when pulled tight under the jacket's high collar.

Upgrade Boots, Gloves

Because EMS members are at constant risk of contracting infectious diseases - either through direct contact with a sick person or through accidental penetration by an infected needle - the sturdy boots and gloves that will be issued alongside the turnout coat and high-waist paints are also a welcome addition.

The gloves, while still waiting a final certification, will have a blood-borne pathogen resistant barrier that represents the latest technology on the market today.

The boots are the same model used by New York's Urban Search and Rescue Teams that are charged with finding survivors following an environmental, radiological, or other type of disaster.

In addition, an FDNY source said, the new bunker gear is more "breathable" and lightweight than the existing coats worn by EMS, which will help keep body temperatures down during summer's high heat and at fire scenes.

It's made of PBO's (an engineered blend of 40 percent zylon and 60 percent technora), a durable and chemical-resistant mix of fibers. It weighs in at 5.3 ounces a yard - far less than previous jackets which came in at 6 ounces a yard. Along the bottom of the bright yellow gear is reflective piping, which FDNY sources said increase the wearer's visibility - a key concern for the department. Nationwide, car accidents are the leading cause of on-the-job deaths for EMS personnel who sometimes have to treat patients on roadsides and in the middle of traffic.

The piping also has Advanced Protective Tracing, a bar coding system that matches each garment to a user.

For now, the technology aids mostly in helping the FDNY keep track of the expensive new equipment. Eventually, in major disasters, it will give the department ways to identify otherwise unidentifiable EMS workers, and allow them to track personnel as they move through emergency scenes.

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