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Sharpsburg firefighters get new gear, donate old equipment to Dominican Republic

| Monday, July 17, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Jan Pakler | For the Tribune-Review
New gear hangs in the personal lockers at the Sharpsburg Volunteer Fire Department.
Jan Pakler | For the Tribune-Review
Sharpsburg volunteer firefighters Cathy Mercer, Taylor Pecze and Larry Weist wear new gear that the department got from a recent grant.

New gear is in the lockers of Sharpsburg Volunteer firefighters, but the old equipment won't go to waste.

Instead, the used boots, bunker pants, gloves and other equipment made its way to the Caribbean, finding use at the Boca Chica Fire Department in the Dominican Republic.

“We donated right around 25-30 sets,” said Larry Wiest, longtime Sharpsburg volunteer firefighter. “They have guys fighting fires in shorts and T-shirts… these things are not something they get all the time.”

With a federal grant for $57,700, the Sharpsburg Volunteer Fire Department received new gear for the first time since 2003, equipping them from head to toe. Wiest said that the replacements were long overdue, as suites are typically good for about 10 years.

“The new gear is different material, more breathable and not as heavy,” Wiest said. “Overall, its more comfortable and less bulky.”

The helmets in particular, added Sharpsburg Fire Department President Dennis Lane, are much lighter and easier to work with.

“There is less fatigue as we are on scenes and crawling around,” Lane said. “And there's less fatigue overall on the firefighters so that we can keep our heads up more and keep up a better search.”

With the grant, the department was able to outfit 27 firefighters, with each suit costing around $2,500. The Sharpsburg Fire Department added more than $11,000 onto the grant, Lane said, which had to be done in order to dress all of members as well as have spare sets.

When dressing to answer a fire call, firefighters have to put on three or four layers of clothing — a moisture layer, vapor layer and external layer. They also wear their own clothing underneath the bulky suits.

Years of wear and tear result in soles rubbing off the boots, rips in the pants and fabric that starts to degrade. The heat itself starts to melt pieces of helmets, masks and other items on the suits.

“Imagine if you wore the same clothes to work every day,” Wiest said. “Eventually they would just fall apart… and we don't have the luxury to just go out and buy new clothes whenever we want.”

And departments like the one in the Dominican Republic sometimes don't have the luxury of wearing adequate gear altogether.

Spearheaded by two firefighters out of New Jersey, the Boca Chica Fire Department Mission most recently expanded to western Pennsylvania. The Penn Hills Fire Station 221 is in charge of the Pittsburgh chapter, collecting used gear and donations from Sharpsburg and eight other local departments so far.

Christine Manganas is a Tribune-Review contributor.

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