When Should You Consider Renting Your Gear?

TAYLOR BURKE GILMAN

he National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1851 guidelines recommend two cleanings per year for turnout gear. All departments know the importance of proper care and maintenance for firefighting protective garments, but what can be done when primary helmets, jackets, pants, gloves, and boots are out for inspection?

If your department is already contracted with a PPE cleaning and inspection service, this is the place to start as many providers offer rental packages for different needs and budgets. If you are evaluating services, be sure to choose an experienced equipment care specialist that understands the latest NFPA 1851 requirements.

Whether you are renting head-to-toe ensembles or individual items, the following guidelines can help ensure a seamless experience.

The 2020 NFPA 1851 standard calls for advanced cleanings of ensembles every six months at a minimum. The NFPA also recommends at least one advanced inspection a year.

When to Rent

Rental PPE is typically needed when the primarily used gear is sent to be cleaned, inspected, and/or repaired. Other times, a rental program can support operational services and opportunities including:

Cadet programs where PPE rentals can be put to the test during academy drills instead of wasting resources on new turnout gear. Many schools and career departments use rental PPE for their training needs. A PPE services vendor can take care of sizing changes, replacements, and your annual NFPA 1851 requirements. Typically, rental prices are set by semester and in some cases, special rates can apply that help to makes gear more accessible to new recruits. 

In industrial buildings where protective equipment must be present in case of emergency. A chemical process plant or manufacturing center may contract a rental service to help safeguard its workers. Employees who don’t wear protective gear every day can also benefit from vendor-provided training that addresses proper equipment use pertaining to common job site dangers such as electrical, heat, chemical, and biohazards as well as airborne particulates.

When you want to try before you buy. PPE rentals allow departments to experiment with equipment in the short term (typically a three- to six-month trial period) before making a long-term investment. Likewise, if you are considering a lease agreement for your PPE needs, this will allow you to better evaluate the benefits that leasing might have over purchasing gear.

When you are waiting for new turnout gear to arrive. Rental PPE can supplement your needs between placing an order for brand-new equipment and receiving it. Your garment supplier or manufacturer is likely to offer a rental package per the terms of your sales agreement or in other cases, you might lobby for a low-cost option for temporary gear as part of good faith negotiations.

What to Ask

As you evaluate prospective vendors, keep a checklist of considerations in mind for selecting the best partner for your department including:

Compliance expertise. All turnout and equipment rentals should be NFPA 1971-compliant (meets minimum levels of protection from thermal, physical, environmental, and bloodborne pathogen hazards) and maintained to current NFPA 1851 safety guidelines. A reliable and knowledgeable vendor takes extra care to stay informed about the latest cleaning requirements (some even play a part in shaping future editions of the 1851 standard).

Turnaround time. Generally, rental PPE orders should be placed at least two weeks in advance to guarantee gear availability (be advised that ongoing supply chain issues resulting from the pandemic still have the potential to impact your planning). While average lead times vary, your chosen vendor should have the capacity to respond in days or even hours in an emergency. Many vendors even offer free door-to-door delivery and pickup.

Contract terms. Be aware of late fees that can arise when rental PPE is damaged or not returned. This includes any cancellation fees that might apply if you terminate the service prematurely. These terms are standard for most service agreements but shouldn’t come as a surprise if something goes wrong. Also, be sure to ask if your department will have the option to purchase its rental garments and at what price.

How to Properly Measure

Turnout gear sizes differ compared to ordinary apparel. The following guidance can help ensure that your rental gear fits right the first time. In all cases, do not take your own measurements and consult your vendor for specific instructions.

Chest: Measure loosely over clothing around the fullest part of the chest and below the arms with arms at rest. For broad shoulders or muscled arms and/or back, an over-the-T-shirt arm/chest measurement is helpful. As a common practice, add 4 inches to your measurement.

Bust: (women only): Measure over clothing, around the fullest part of the bust, and below the arms with arms at rest.

Sleeve: Measure from the center of the back of the neck, around a bent arm, to the wrist at the base of the hand.

Waist: Measure around the outside of pants and add 4 inches to your measurement.

Inseam: Measure from the crotch seam (inside leg) to the top of the ankle. For baggy pants, be sure to pull the crotch uptight before taking your measurement.

Gloves: The NFPA quick reference chart is a helpful guide for sizing structural fire gloves. It breaks down how NFPA sizes compare to most standard glove sizes:

Standard Sizing         

XS   SM   MD   LG  
XL   2XL

NFPA SIZING

70N   70W   76N  
76W  82N   82W

Your rental PPE provider should be a reliable resource for any equipment needs or education that will help your department run smoothly. Whether as part of a cleaning and inspection service or for situations calling for temporary protective gear, equipment rentals are a great way to protect your crew while avoiding the cost of buying new garments. Be sure to choose a partner that will tailor a PPE rental program to your specific needs. 

Taylor Burke is the youngest daughter of Chairman and Owner Bill Burke, and she joined the Fire-Dex Family in January 2019 as our Customer Relations Manager. Quickly after, in August 2019, she became Division Manager of Gear Wash, where she confidently led the onboarding of two acquisitions for Gear Wash in Milwaukee and Hudson, granting her the promotion to Director of Gear Wash in 2021 and eventually President of Gear Wash in 2021. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Telecommunications and a Master of Science in Business Management from the University of Florida.

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