Creature from the Blog Lagoon 13: Girding for a Hot, Turbulent Summer

It’s officially summer and the Santa Ana winds are filled with the aroma of tear gas, soon to be joined by that of burning vegetation. With this in mind, I’ve been stocking up on personal protective equipment (has “PPE” been deemed the word of the year by any dictionary publishers yet?) and related items. If you need to gear up for what promises to be an interesting summer, this flow chart might help you make purchasing decisions. (The first two categories are things we already have experience with, of course.) You’ll find some observations and suggestions about my wildfire PPE purchases after the graphic. You can click on the image for a larger view.

My Wildfire Personal Protective Equipment (THIS IS NOT EXPERT ADVICE)

I don’t claim to be an expert but I do play one on TV and I did sleep at a Holiday Inn, so consider my comments here as a starting point for your own research. I received recommendations from a firefighter on an Internet firefighting forum so the advice is at least a bit reliable.

  • Firefighter’s turnout (AKA “bunker”) coat. I bought mine used on eBay because brand new ones are expensive. Considering I don’t plan to be fighting fires I figured I don’t need top quality. I could have purchased a lighter-weight Nomex shirt intended specifically for wildfire firefighters, but the coat would give me added protection for the same price. It’s recommended that these be a bit bigger than you’d normally buy for regular clothing. I made sure there were no department-specific markings on this one as I didn’t want anyone to accuse me of trying to pass as a firefighter.
  • Smoke mask. It was suggested I buy a ”Hot Shield” brand smoke mask. They’re expensive and with me being the cheapskate that I am I opted for a used one from eBay. This particular model has a place inside for dome-shaped N95 “diesel particulate matter” (DPM) disposable face masks but they’re very hard to find because of the pandemic (some retailers are only selling to verified first responders and medical personnel), but I have some N95 respirator filters that will work well enough.
  • Goggles. I bought brand new firefighting goggles on eBay and I think I only paid around $15 for them. Because they’re high quality they should also be suitable for when the tear gas canisters start flying.
  • Nomex hood. This was also an eBay purchase. Nobody suggested I buy one, but they’re cheap and it would be excellent protection for my head and face in case I ever ended up in a bad situation.
  • Steel-toed boots. (I had these already.) It’s possible steel toes are a bad idea - they might conduct heat too easily. (This little piggy went up in flames.) Regardless, these boots have high sides so they’re good protection from ankle sprains.
  • Work gloves. (I already had these, not that I actually do any work.) They should be okay if I need to make my way through broken branches and I doubt I’d need the protection actual firefighting gloves would offer.
  • Media armband. I could have stenciled “media” or “press” on the back of the coat, but if I made a mistake - oops. Leaving it unmarked also gives me the option of reselling it.

Some things missing:

  • Nomex pants. When I was younger fireproof pants might have come in handy, but now, not so much. Anyway, jeans will be good enough for my needs.
  • Helmet. I’ll be buying one but I’ll try to find something that will work both for wildfires and for riot situations.
  • Fire shelter. These are one-person fireproof bags that provide brief protection from fast-moving fires. Brand new ones are expensive, as much as $700 from shameless sellers - more reasonable prices seem to be $250 to $500. “Old new stock” (NOS) fire shelters run anywhere from $50 to $100. I hope to never be in a position to need one, but I may end up buying one of these on eBay.

I sincerely hope none of this stuff is needed but if it is I’m ready.

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