A Look at the Gear Used to Fight Wildfires

As wildfires burn in California, many first responders have made it their duty to stop them. Some of the equipment used in such missions is on display in Boston.

"Protecting Our Heroes: A Celebration of Safety and Innovation," an exhibit being presented this weekend at Copley Place, shows some of the gear used by firefighters and others who respond to dire crises like the raging blazes that have claimed dozens of lives in recent days.

Bailey McDade works in Arizonia as a wildland firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service. She's spent more than 1,000 hours battling fires in Montana, Idaho and Oregon.

"I've actually stood and walked through flames waist-high," said McDade.

The material that helps make that possible is plastic. The exhibit shows how plastic is used in fire protective gear, bulletproof vests and hazmat suits.

McDade has been fighting fires for two years.

"We wear what looks like regular pants and a regular shirt, and they're super lightweight, but they're actually made of a plastic blend," she said.

The material protects her from the heat and resists flames.

"Plastics deliver strength and durability and mobility," said Steve Russell, the vice president of the American Chemistry Council's Plastic Division. "All the things that a firefighter needs to do their job."

The exhibit features equipment used by America's first female bomb technician and a hazmat suit like the ones medical professionals wore to fight Ebola in Africa.

"When we make protective equipment more durable, that is the difference from being able to expose yourself to a hazard for five minutes or 15 minutes," said Charles Johnson, the president of the International Safety Equipment Association. "That extra 10 minutes can save a life."

McDade's fire season starts in April and ends in October. Although she hasn't fought the most recent fires in California, she said her colleagues are.

"They need to be well-protected with their gear and know that they have the best that's out there so they can do their job safely and efficiently," she said.

Something firefighters in California could be using to fight flames is a bladder bag.

"A bladder bag is made of tough vinyl material and it carries five gallons of water," McDade said.

It's used in areas that don't have access to a water supply.

"It changes the game when people's lives and houses are at stake," she said.

The exhibit in Copley Place runs from Saturday, Oct. 14 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and again on Sunday, Oct. 15 from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.

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