New gear helps firefighters breathe easier

Toledo department gets 296 units

Jamie Morelock, a Toledo firefighter and paramedic, models the new breathing mask and control module.
Jamie Morelock, a Toledo firefighter and paramedic, models the new breathing mask and control module.

It’s been about a month since new breathing apparatuses were delivered to Toledo firefighters, but the equipment was only put to the test last weekend as crews responded to several working fires.

“I couldn't be happier with these,” said firefighter Jamie Morelock, who works out of downtown’s Station 5.

The new self-contained breathing apparatuses replace gear that was nearly 16 years old, said fire Lt. Matthew Hertzfeld.

The new air tanks, face pieces, and everything that goes along with a full unit are about 4 or 5 pounds heavier than the old — weighing between 26 and 28 pounds — but better distribute the weight onto a firefighter’s hips for improved comfort.

The back bands of the new units are also flexible compared with the old models, which were outfitted with a steel bar.

The 222 units, 6 laptops, and 5 rapid intervention team packs cost a total of $1,244,720, said Lieutenant Hertzfeld. Much of that — $995,776 — was covered by the 2011 assistance to firefighters grant from the Department of Homeland Security.

The rest of the money — $248,944 — was paid by the city.

The new units also improve firefighter safety.

Each of the 296 face pieces has a “heads-up display” that, on one side, has three green lights that act a little like a fuel gauge, letting the firefighter know how much air is left in the 30-minute tank.

The new units are so advanced that a computer system in each unit can determine how much air a firefighter has left based on the pace of their breathing.

Lights on the outside of the pack also flash green or red, depending on air levels, so others can be aware of how fellow crew members are doing.

The computer system set up in each unit will eventually be linked to the laptops the department will receive.

The on-scene commander, from outside, will be able to monitor how much air each firefighter has — each unit is programmed for the firefighter who is wearing it at the start of each shift — and will have a GPS tracking system, so officers will know where inside of a structure each firefighter is.

Should a firefighter be injured or knocked unconscious, a very loud alarm will sound after 20 seconds without movement. The volume and intensity of the alarm increases the longer there is no movement.

“These will improve our safety,” Lieutenant Hertz-feld said. “ … This is a major step in making a dangerous job safer. Ultimately, at a fire scene, your air supply is one of the most important issues you have to deal with.”

Contact Taylor Dungjen at: or 419-724-6064.