It’s not often that a fire chief makes a personal visit to a factory to thank the men and women who construct turnout gear for firefighters.
However, Wade White, an assistant fire chief of the Los Angeles (CA) Fire Department, made that trip recently to pay tribute to those who toil on the assembly lines because he saw them as unsung heroes in a significant rescue. When the network news segment broke, he saw the video of a fellow firefighter falling through a roof of a building completely consumed by flames and emerging engulfed by fire 50 seconds later before being rescued by fellow firefighters. Chief White was so moved by the outcome—a fellow firefighter had survived with his life — he decided to meet firsthand with the team who made the firefighter’s turnout gear at the Honeywell plant in Dayton, Ohio, and he was offered a close-up view of the quality controls built into each garment.
He offered touching words of gratitude to the sewers, stitchers, cutters and other line workers that had a hand in creating the garment. “That firefighter is alive today because of you. The gear did what it was supposed to do. Keep on doing what you do. Your work is important,” said Chief White.
White is Commander of the Maintenance and Supply Division of LA Fire Department, overseeing 106 fire stations and 3300 firefighters. But in a career with the Fire Department that spans 32 years, he knows what it’s like to battle fires that burn at 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit within buildings. As a firefighter, he’s seen burning sections of wall structures or roofs collapse and fall onto himself and other firefighters. He has felt the extreme heat of fire conducting through his gear against his skin. But he had never witnessed what he saw captured on a smart phone of a curious building resident who filmed of a fire in progess in LA, he said. The video showed the firefighter falling through the roof into a blazing building. The firefighter was exposed to severe conditions, high heat, and direct flame as firefighters worked immediately to remove him from the area he had fallen into.
Chief White said he was both amazed and deeply heartened to find out that the firefighter survived the perilous incident. “The firefighter is lucky to be alive,” he said. Chief White credits the firefighter’s training, plus the Honeywell Morning Pride turnout gear, as critical to the firefighter’s survival.
“The gear this individual was in was probably the best he could have been in. It provided the protection, and this member is alive because of it,” said Chief White. “It was nice to see the individuals who actually had a part in building the coat and pair of pants that individual was wearing, and it’s very heartfelt.”
Not many people know what goes into making of turnout gear for firefighters. It takes hours to physically assemble one coat—and the whole process of design, testing, stitching, cutting, inspection and other quality controls add many more hours to the process. It requires a dedicated team to put together a single article of Morning Pride turnout gear.
Assembling turnout gear requires a uniquely blended skill set – one part individual, (think piecework, and recall the detailed sewing and double stitching carried out by tailors and seamstresses of yesteryear), and one part technological (relying on the most advanced computer imaging and processes to determine proper heat tolerances, fabric strength and other important factors). The process lends itself to such tight quality controls, inspection frequency and engineering validations, that the manufacturing must of necessity be carried out at a single site, where each garment can be closely monitored until it becomes a finished product. The whole process is carried out around the clock, 24 hours, 365 days a year.