When Covington fire fighters returned from a fire on West Street recently, their clothes, or “turnout gear,” were covered in soot produced from the synthetics burned in the apartment blaze.
That soot can contain carcinogens, which lead to cancer — something Bowles had seen plenty of while working with the Cobb County Fire Department. Bowles said in his 30 years of service in Cobb County, at least 10 fire fighters died from cancer, and some Covington firefighters told him two firefighters here had passed away from cancer.
To combat these dangers, the Covington Fire Department has to send their gear off to a company in Austell, and then wait four to five days to get it back. If the fire fighters whose gear is sent out have to answer a call during those four or five days, they have to borrow gear from off-duty fire fighters.
That is due to the lack of a second set of turnout gear, something Bowles was hoping to remedy when presenting his proposed budget to the Covington City Council Thursday night. Additional turnout gear was his number one budget priority.
“The governing body for our rules and regulations, which isn’t a binding law, but guidelines for fire services to try to abide by, says turnout gear is good for 10 years and 10 only,” Bowles said. “We had some gear approaching the 10-year mark and when we got here we saw we only had one set of turnout gear.”
According to Bowles, each set of turnout gear is $1,850. Bowles also requested funds for a $6,000-8,000 Washer Extractor, which washes gear at a higher RPM than a residential washing machine. That higher RPM helps to eliminate the carcinogens on the turnout gear.
“It’s a very needed thing,” Bowles said. “Two of the things that stuck out for me immediately was not having turnout gear and not having a washer. We’re significantly at a higher risk for cancer. Most cancer for men is in the prostate, colon and neck, and that’s where our gear is.”
The Covington City Council was presented with a $5,779,537 budget statement from the fire department that will increase by $500,000 for a new fire truck, which will be offset by a revenue of capital lease proceeds and financed over a period of time, according to Covington Finance Director Randy Smith.
Included in the $5,779,537 is a $473,949 increase for items such as equipment, personal services, employee benefits and building improvements. Ninety-thousand dollars of the proposed budget increase is for personal safety equipment, including the requested turnout gear and $19,600 for dive team equipment.
About $56,000 of the more $473,949 is for building improvements which is to include bringing the sprinkler system up to code.
“Our sprinkler system is non-functional,” Bowles said. “The sprinkler system is not even compliant with regulations we enforce.”
The sprinkler system is something Bowles’ predecessor had requested as well, and it appears they will finally get it this year. The council’s biggest objections to Bowles’ proposed budget were parts of a restroom renovation and more personnel for administrative services.
The city’s budget is still under discussion with a meeting set for Tuesday to continue to discuss the 2016 fiscal year.