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Firefighters' air packs need to be replaced every 10-15 years, and the Sumter Fire Department received new, upgraded packs from a new manufacturer on Tuesday.
Drager, an international company in the fields of medical and safety technology, has produced breathing and protection equipment for firefighters for more than 100 years.
"We had four different air pack manufacturers come in," Capt. Will Glover said. "This air pack manufacturer actually scored better on the evaluations than everybody else."
Glover said the new packs have more features than their previous equipment as technology has advanced through the years.
Firefighters at a training session Tuesday agreed with Glover that the new air packs are easier to use and have more features than before.
"It's a completely different setup with the same principles," Glover said.
The fire department purchased 230 air packs that are NFBA-certified. They got the 2018 Edition Drager FPS 7000 (face mask), PSS 7000 (carrying system) and Sentinel 7000 (personal alert safety system), according to Division Chief Joey Duggan.
Duggan said the fire department spent $1.5 million on the new air packs and other equipment that will be distributed throughout the city and county fire stations.
Alarms wailed during the training Tuesday, and sporadic beeps filled the room as firefighters tested the air packs. The Sentinel 7000 self-diagnostics systems rang from each pack, making sure everything works properly.
William Ratliff, regional sales manager with Drager, said the packs take some getting used to but eventually become a muscle memory action over time.
Firefighters helped one another as they strapped themselves in the packs and adjusted the harness height. They placed cylinders, which hold oxygen for firefighters to breathe in smoke-filled situations, in the placeholder and tested the communication system in the face masks.
The upgraded communication system is team-based and comes with a Bluetooth radio that operates on three channels, making it easier to communicate and understand one another on the job.
Duggan said the fire department authorized 12 firefighters to attend a training school and become technician-level certified with the new air packs and their repairs.
With new face masks and every person having unique facial features, firefighters are required to do a fit test annually where they make sure the mask is sealed tight onto the person's face with no air leaks.
"Every year, we have to do fit testing, so the mask properly fits our face," Glover said. "All it does is create a negative pressure and checks for leaks on the face piece itself. That's one of the processes you go through when you get new air packs."
The tests usually take less than a minute to complete, and the tester holds his or her breath for eight seconds to check for leaks. This is done repeatedly until the tester passes with flying colors.
"Everything," Glover said, "can be custom fitted to make sure it fits."
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