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The real cost of ownership: Firefighter turnout gear explained

Selecting the right gear for your department includes more than considering dollars and cents

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Both protection and durability are important aspects to consider within all three layers of turnout gear, but that doesn’t mean departments have to break the bank just to have robust gear.

TenCate Protective Fabrics

When it comes to making any type of investment, whether it be radios, SCBA or a CAD upgrade, fire departments need to consider cost. Rarely is there budgetary room to fulfill every item on a department’s wish list, making it imperative to evaluate all aspects of a purchase.

The same holds true for turnout gear – something that is essential, comes in a multitude of styles and materials, and is often a significant line item, particularly for smaller or volunteer departments. However, the driving factor behind selecting new turnout gear is often financial, and getting the most “bang for your buck” is a popular idea among many.

Yet departments do truly get what they pay for when it comes to these garments. Instead of looking only at a dollar figure, it’s helpful for administrators to consider additional factors that play into their purchase. After all, if cheaper turnout gear falls apart quickly or is hated by fire crews, how much money you saved upfront won’t make a difference.


Before evaluating the price of turnout gear from various vendors, departments should take a step back and consider the materials that will best meet their needs. There are a lot of options to choose from, with each touting their own unique set of benefits. But turnout gear isn’t one-size-fits-all, and neither are the materials it’s constructed from.

Considering the harsh conditions that turnout gear is exposed to, it’s critical to evaluate the materials available from a variety of standpoints – not simply based on the cost of each option.

“I feel that protection trumps all other facets, followed by durability,” said Jeffrey Reed, a veteran firefighter and member of the end-use business development team for TenCate Protective Fabrics. “Once you have a robust material, look to manufacturers’ design to provide things like range of motion and how well the garment works with you, not against you.”

Both protection and durability are important aspects to consider within all three layers of turnout gear, but that doesn’t mean departments have to break the bank just to have robust gear. It’s up to each department to evaluate its operational goals and determine what’s going to be a priority for the crew.

Some departments place resiliency high on their priority list and want to make sure their turnout gear can withstand extreme wear and tear. A popular option for those who want to invest in rugged materials is Flex7, an outer shell by TenCate Protective Fabrics. Made using their patented Enforce technology, Flex7 is designed to offer fire fighters leading levels of durability and strength in challenging environments.

Depending on the climate you’re in, you might find moisture management stands out above other benefits a material can provide. In this case, TenCate Protective Fabrics’ thermal liner constructed using Titanium Nano is an ideal option. This material wicks away moisture, offers fast donning and doffing and aids in moisture management to help ensure the comfort of those who wear it.

While the element of cost can’t be ignored, it’s important to remember that turnout gear made of materials that don’t meet your crew’s needs won’t be easily embraced.


With material selection leading the way for every set of turnout gear, garment design also should be considered when it comes to making an investment.

“A manufacturer’s design doesn’t just mean how well it moves on a firefighter, it also means how it is constructed and how the stitching is done,” said Reed. “There are a lot of aspects of the design from the manufacturer that you select that go directly back to its longevity – and longevity in today’s world also means cost. A well-made garment, constructed with durable materials, generally holds up better over a longer period of time. Because it lasts longer, it offers more value than a lower-cost garment that may need to be replaced sooner because it’s not as durable.”

He stresses that departments need to think about the total picture of their turnout gear, not just consider purchasing the bare minimum that barely meets NFPA standards. This evaluation process includes auxiliary items, too.

“You need to ensure items placed in, on and around the gear aren’t playing a role in requiring repairs,” he said. “If you buy a nice new leather radio strap and it has sharp edges that start to abrade the inside of your thermal liner, why would you go through that?”

Departments should consider all facets of turnout gear design, not just stitching or where auxiliary items are placed, but overall cut, availability of sizes, the durability of elbow and knee areas and much more.


Of all the items needed for a firefighter to perform their job, turnout gear is arguably one of the most essential. If the cost of new garments seems overwhelming, it’s important to realize that any firefighter whose gear needs to be consistently repaired or replaced is actually a liability, not an asset.

“Most departments can’t afford multiple sets of gear for each person, and the ones that can are very lucky,” said Reed. “When you think about it, how vulnerable are your firefighters? Once their gear ships off to an independent service provider, they’re not fighting fires, they’re observers. They could pump a truck or they could drive, but they can’t get into the inner circle at an extrication because they are not protected. They can’t go into a burning building because they are not protected. There’s gotta be value in keeping your people online.”

Ultimately, if your department can’t keep turnout gear in service, it’s worthless, emphasizes Reed. While cost can certainly play a role in any departmental investment, looking at the bigger picture can help make the purchasing process a bit easier.

“Spend the money to protect your folks,” he said. “Make sure your gear is right for your department and choose materials that make sense for your operational goals. Never put anything over protection – not comfort, not durability – because again, if you’re not well protected, nothing else is relevant.”

Visit TenCate Protective Fabrics for more information.

Read next:
Selecting new garments can be simple when done in a methodical way
Select the best turnout gear for your department’s needs by following these guidelines
Selecting the right stationwear is more important than you realize

Courtney Levin is a Branded Content Project Lead for Lexipol where she develops content for the public safety audience including law enforcement, fire, EMS and corrections. She holds a BA in Communications from Sonoma State University and has written professionally since 2016.