Flower Mound Fire Department Chief Paul Henley calls a certain piece of equipment that firefighters use as their “battle armor” when they enter a space that’s on fire.

The Flower Mound Town Council approved a purchase of that armor—self-contained breathing apparatus replacements—for the Flower Mound Fire Department at its meeting May 16.

The apparatuses cost $921,662.43 and were purchased through Casco Industries Inc.

“That’s our lifeline—because that’s where our air supply is, of course,” Henley said about the equipment.

What you need to know: Apparatuses consist of an air pack, a cylinder, a mask and a personal alert safety system that are utilized by firefighters to enter “immediately dangerous to life and health environments,” according to a town council memo. Air packs are crucial to incidents involving fire or hazardous materials.

How we got here: Air packs have a 10- to 15-year service life, and the fire department replaced all of its apparatuses in 2013. The equipment is nearing the end of its lifespan, and the manufacturer has stated the current fire department model will no longer be supported once existing parts are exhausted. Fire department officials said in an agenda memo it is “imperative that this vital safety equipment is in working order and can be relied on to perform as intended. Maintenance has been increasing on these assets each year and the department has actually run out of spare equipment at least twice this year due to this increased maintenance need.”

What's next: Because of the type of apparatus purchased in the past, the fire department cannot do a piece-meal replacement of partial inventory. The department must replace all units, face pieces and replacement bottles at one time, and the fire department will need to replace 77 units and 135 bottles. Each member of the fire department also will require an individual face piece, and each air pack will have firefighter tracking technology for the incident commander and a self-rescue thermal imaging camera, the memo stated. Also, an external safety thermal device will be required for each seat assignment. In the future, once the new air packs arrive, an equipment replacement schedule will be created to allow financial visibility for planning.

What they’re saying: “Ten, 12 years ago, when these were bought—the current ones—they went to some kind of leading-edge technology they thought the industry was going to move to,” Henley said. “That did not happen. Only one other department bought in at the tIme, and it was Grand Prairie, and they have since long ago changed back. What the change was, was a 5,500-psi bottle versus the 4,500-psi model, which everybody else runs. So we’re not really compatible with this technology that we have, but it’s also nearing end of life.”

He explained parts are harder to come by for the current model; plus, there have been several National Fire Protection Agency standard changes for breathing apparatuses that have come out since then. He said they could not be replaced piecemeal because of the technology and compatibility issues.

“I can’t intermix these packs for the safety of the firefighters, so this time we’re having to buy them all at once,” Henley said.

The bottom line: Buying this equipment this year means a better price point as the town will save $50,000-$75,000 this year as opposed to a year or two from now, Henley said. Deputy Fire Chief Brandon Barth said the equipment should arrive within 60 days from the purchase order being issued. Personnel will have to be trained over the summer because the department is going from Scott air packs to MSA air packs. Other benefits of the enhanced technology, among other aspects of the equipment, include being able to track individual firefighters from the incident command post and being able to determine where they are in the fire ground and track their air consumption.