Mt Pleasant Fire Department uses innovation to quickly dry gear and save money

Long after the flames of a fire have been reduced to smoldering wreckage, dangerous carcinogens and noxious chemicals cling to firefighter’s turnout gear — suits, helmets, boots, etc. — putting them at a higher risk for cancer or other serious illnesses.

These harmful substances can only be removed from the turnout gear via a thorough washing and drying. So, in 2018 the Mount Pleasant Fire Department invested $11,000 in a commercial turnout gear washer. However, the department was still left with a problem: the gear was taking 36 hours to dry using their current drying system.

When a firefighter’s personal set of gear is drying, they are forced to use one of the few extra gear sets the department has. Those extra sets of gear aren’t fitted to each firefighter’s body type, needs, etc., as their personal gear is. Thus, for firefighters to be able to do their jobs comfortably, their gear needs to be cleaned, dried, and ready for use as soon as possible.

While they were researching solutions to this problem, Director of Public Safety and Police Chief Paul Lauria and Fire Chief Rick Beltnick found that instead of spending between $10,000 to $15,000 on commercial drying equipment, they could simply build and customize their own dryer.

The two shared their idea, which they found online, with Sgt. Rich Clark who helped lead the construction of the dryer. Clark distributed an image of a self-constructed dryer to the rest of the full-time firefighters for suggestions on how to make the design match their needs.

“We took a concept offline that was smaller in size and we expanded it due to the size of our department and the ability to dry multiple pairs of gear at the same time,” says Clark.

All full-time firefighters helped construct the dryer using PVC pipes with holes drilled in them. The pipes are used to create mannequins, or frames, on which the gear is hung. Then a blower shoots air throughout the pipes and into the suits, drying them in just four hours.

This month-long do-it-yourself project was finished in December 2019. The new dryer not only cuts drying time by 32 hours, it also saved the department money costing only $2,500 to construct — significantly less than the commercial drying equipment. The new dryer also has the ability to dry 10 or 11 sets of gear simultaneously, while commercial dryers often can only dry four at a time.

Being able to wash and dry gear quickly, means the firefighters get to wear their personal gear rather than the few spare turnout gear sets the department has. This allows the firefighters to work more comfortably.

“It comes down to comfort and with comfort comes efficiency, and our people just work better,” says Clark. “So the quicker we can get the gear washed, dried, and back into our firefighter’s hands, the better off we are.”

More than anything, the new washer and dryer is just another way for the department to take better care of their firefighters.

“I think for us it was just a way of making sure that we were taking care of our employees and people and doing everything we can do to keep them safe,” says Beltnick.

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