After battling a blaze, firefighters are often wet and dirty. And for some, they are wet and dirty going to put out a fire.
Firefighters with Station 1 in Gainesville, Fla., had this problem. Not only was their turnout gear (pants, jackets, boots, etc.) soaking wet and covered in soot after fighting a fire, they had no efficient way of cleaning and drying it before heading out again. They often resorted to hanging their gear off of railings or safety bollards around the station. It would take days for the heavy equipment to fully dry, and firefighters didn’t have enough backup gear to always have something dry and clean available.
Forced to put on damp and soot-covered gear isn’t a matter of comfort, it’s a matter of safety, too. Studies have revealed that firefighters have a greater risk of being diagnosed with cancer and other ailments because of their job-related exposure to harmful substances.
Linda Mentz, 15, of Troop 21 in Gainesville wanted to find a solution with her Eagle Scout project.
“The gear has to be immediately cleaned to remove all of the carcinogens,” Linda says. “I didn’t realize how large of a project I had signed up for.”
Linda joined the troop soon after attending a recruitment event where she learned knots and how to whip and fuse rope. After joining, she learned a lot more — rock climbing, archery and whitewater rafting, just to name a few skills. She also learned how to lead after attending National Youth Leadership Training and then being elected senior patrol leader. She quickly discovered how those leadership skills can transfer to other areas in her life, like in marching band and lacrosse.
When considering an Eagle Scout project, she first thought of building some stairs by a favorite scenic outlook that she and her brother enjoyed visiting.
“I really wanted to do something constructive,” she says.
But the county’s wildlife management service wasn’t thrilled with that idea. Linda’s Scoutmaster brainstormed some other possibilities, one of which was figuring out the fire station’s gear problem.
Linda designed a 7-foot-tall apparatus made out of PVC pipe that could hold wet jackets, pants, masks and boots. An air blower would force air into the pipes, and holes would blow air into the gear, drying it all between firefighters’ shifts. A task that once took days could be done in 12 hours.
One system cost less than $500 to build. Buying a commercial dryer would’ve cost thousands. The city’s fire department didn’t want just one — they wanted two. The other would help out Station 8. Both stations have on-site industrial washing machines.
Linda spent five weeks constructing the two drying systems; she invited Scouts from her troop to her backyard to help built them. She needed plywood, glue, screws, flanges, valves, but more importantly, ingenuity. The systems not only had to be effective, but they had to be mobile and easy to disassemble and move if need be. Each system had a different design. One system pumped air through an overhead pipe and down 1-inch PVC pipe while the other pumped air up through wooden bases and 3-inch PVC pipe.
“I set them both up in my backyard; it was so awesome to see,” she says.
You can see her plans and instructions here.
Linda finished the Eagle Scout requirements and became part of the BSA’s inaugural female class of Eagle Scouts. You can read more stories about Eagle Scouts in this class in a special edition of Scout Life magazine.