CW44's Price McKeon shows the new equipment and explains how it could help first responders when it comes to protecting themselves - even against COVID-19.By Price McKeon

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (CW44 News At 10) – Hillsborough County Fire Rescue rolls out millions of dollars of new equipment this week in a continual effort to improve firefighter safety. CW44’s Price McKeon shows the new items and explains how they could help these first responders when it comes to protecting themselves – even against COVID-19.

Pointing to air tanks beside him, “This is the breathing air that a firefighter will bring into a hospital environment and inside the fire where there’s smoke and heated gases,” said Hillsborough County Fire Chief Dennis Jones. He also shows us the new face pieces that firefighters also wear into a fire. “When you speak with the face piece on before, it was really muffled. These [new face pieces] make the voices crystal clear.”

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Jones elaborates why the county bought the more than 1,000 new facemasks and more than 400 new air packs. “In Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, our previous air packs were becoming obsolete. New codes came out, new standards. And so, we were in the market for new air packs. When we change out air packs, we do a complete change.” The cost, about $4 million according to the county. Both, facemasks and air packs will be distributed across the department’s 44 fire stations.

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“The speaking diaphragm is much more advanced, and it’s almost as if you’re standing next to them,” says Jones. That’s not all the county says makes these masks safer and more effective. There’s also a display inside the masks to show them how much air is left in their air bottles. The outside of the mask doesn’t have exterior attachments, which lowers the chance of the mask catching on something while moving in the dark. There’s also a specialty filter that can attach to the masks, so if there’s a shortage of N95 masks, firefighters can add that filter and it can be used to help protect the firefighters from COVID-19. “Every firefighter gets their own personal facepiece and then every seat on the apparatus has an air pack.”

Face pieces and air packs are not the only purchases that the department’s made recently to improve safety. Earlier this year Hillsborough finished buying all-new bunker gear that is measured and tailored for each firefighter.

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