IWE Success Stories
Upcycled Turnout Gear
by Shelly Codner, Area 2
Turnout gear, also called bunker gear, is defined as the personal protective equipment (PPE) worn by firefighters on duty. PPE protects firefighters against extreme temperatures and debris. Once the turnout gear has reached the end of its useful protective life, fire departments are tasked with disposal.
Recently, the Altoona Fire Department was faced with this issue, finding themselves with approximately 30 sets of pants and jackets that had reached the end of their protective life. Rather than sending the materials to the landfill for disposal, environmentally minded staff members, Fire Chief Jerry Whetstone, and Administrative Assistant Amy Hill, determined that there had to be a better option and reached out to Shelene Codner, Area Resource Specialist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ Iowa Waste Exchange Program.
Codner contacted multiple organizations who were subsequently interested in the materials for recycling purposes. Of these organizations, two were selected by Altoona staff members due to their direct charity involvement – Dakota Stitch and Design, and Firefighter Turnout Bags by Nicki Rasor.
Both organizations upcycle the gear into everyday items including but not limited to billfolds, duffle bags, purses, backpacks and diaper bags.
Dakota Stich and Design donates $5 for each set of gear received to National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. And both organizations have pay-it-forward programs in which finished items are donated to firefighters and their families as well as to schools and other charitable organizations.
“While the initial volume isn’t a large amount,“ stated Codner, “The supplemental and secondary benefits revolving around these types of partnerships make them well worth the time and effort in doing the research and making the contacts. It is also a wonderful opportunity to educate others including fire departments inside and outside of Iowa that alternatives to landfilling materials in amazing and sustainable ways do exist.”