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4 investments worth every penny for firefighters

How to get the best bang for your buck, especially when tapping into personal funds for work items

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Turnout gear bags are a must-have for firefighters traveling to conferences in other cities.

What to buy? What to buy? Does this thought ever cross your mind?

As your tax return, stimulus check or even just your regular paycheck hits your wallet, you may find yourself eyeing some fire toys. But let’s face it, we need to stretch our dollars as much as possible. With that in mind, here are some items that provide the best bang for your buck – right out of your own personal funds.

1. A great utility flashlight

You aren’t anything without a great flashlight, right? Every firefighter should carry a flashlight, and great firefighters carry two!

When I was a rookie, several senior firefighters advised me invest in a flashlight, and years later, I heartily agree with their wise advice.

A small 90-degree light for your turnout coat is a solid investment. However, I have gotten far more use out of my smaller utility flashlight throughout typical day-to-day operations. This bright small light can be carried on a work belt, inside a pocket or even attached to a radio strap to make it easily accessible. The smaller light is serviceable and essential equipment when responding to any emergency at night. And if you need to perform apparatus maintenance or conduct daily chores, your flashlight sidekick is there for you.

One surprise: The pocket lights aren’t cheap. A solid flashlight can cost you around $100 – but it’s worth every penny.

2. A durable radio strap

This is the first piece of equipment I bought as a new firefighter, and I have zero regrets about it. A radio strap is a must-have for firefighters, especially if you work for an organization that can’t afford to outfit these for every riding position.

During incident operations, the most practical way to carry your portable radio is on a radio strap. A 2013 study, “Portable Radio Placement in the IDLH,” completed by the Fairfax County (Virginia) Fire & Rescue Department, supports this method of holstering your radio in a strap. I find it the most convenient way to carry my radio all the time. The radio strap gives you the ability to stage your radio with the rest of your equipment near the apparatus.

There are several vendors who dabble in the art of leather radio strap manufacturing. Take advantage of personalizing your strap to suit your personality. I highly recommend purchasing the anti-sway strap as an additional option. Also, nylon and other materials being introduced for radio straps are easy to clean and decontaminate, which is essential to reduce health risks.

You can grab yourself a good radio strap around $80.


Turnout gear bags are a must-have for firefighters traveling to conferences in other cities.

Photo/Vince Bettinazzi

3. A spacious turnout gear bag

A spacious turnout gear bag has so many uses! They are particularly useful for firefighters working at departments that generate a lot of station transfers or regular personnel moves to cover staffing for the day. A turnout gear bag is an easy way to transport your PPE from place to place – and they help minimize exposure risks since we can’t always clean our gear right away. Considering the serious risks of cancer in the fire service, I wish I had invested in a turnout gear bag earlier in my career to help minimize exposure risks.

Turnout gear bags are also a must-have for firefighters traveling to conferences in other cities. Just think, instead of piling all of your belongings into the back of your car, a gear bag provides a sealed container for your structural firefighting ensemble. Maybe you lost the road trip minivan fight; if that’s the case, a turnout gear bag is great for encapsulating our dirty, sweaty gear. Let’s face it, we do a pretty good job of washing our gear after fires, but we don’t always have time to clean it after we’ve just been wearing it during training or routine calls like fire alarms and extrications. The gear bag helps contain the gear and reduce the spread of contaminants inside the passenger cabin of your family ride.

While the best way to prevent exposure risks is to routinely wash your gear, the best way to carry your gear is in one of these bags. The cost for these bags ranges from $40 to $70.

4. A good pen

You may think I’m joking, but I’m serious when I say a good writing pen is a nice thing to have. No one likes to write with a substandard pen. A pen that doesn’t work well is an annoyance, and we’re all too busy to waste time searching for a pen that works.

Every firefighter needs a pen that can hold up to our daily workload. The Bic Pilot G2 has never let me down. Even when one accidentally went through the wash with my clothes, the pen always came through intact and usable. A pack costs around $7. Find the pen that you prefer!

Editor’s note: What items do you think should be added to this list – items that are worth spending your own money on? Share your ideas in the comments.

Vince Bettinazzi joined the Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Fire Department in 2007. He currently holds the rank of battalion chief and is assigned as a shift commander on C-Shift. Bettinazzi is a member of the department’s Ocean Rescue Team as a certified USLA lifeguard. He completed the NFA’s Managing Officer Program in 2016, and recently obtained his Chief Fire Officer Designation from CPSE. Bettinazzi is a co-host on the “Beyond the Stretch” podcast.