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By Shannon in News on Jan 17, 2007 7:00PM

still smolderingWay back in July, Chicagoist brought you glad tidings of a vital upgrade for city firefighters. After decades of wearing outdated equipment, the Chicago Fire Department was finally on track to get new protective gear like most major cities in the U.S., worth $10 million. Thighs and groins of firefighters citywide rejoiced, for they would now be heavily protected, compared to their current unwelcome exposure in a fire. Everything, it seemed, would be all right.

Famous last words. In two separate incidents last week, the new pants ended up with holes in them due to red-hot metal debris. It happened in a fire-training exercise, as well as a real-life warehouse fire; both times involved the use of a saw to cut through a metal fence. The molten metal, well over 1,000 degrees in temperature (that’s Fahrenheit), punched a hole through the top layer, but did not puncture the thermal barrier or inner lining. Both firefighters came away unhurt. Still, this isn’t exactly what you’d want to hear after dropping $10 mil on new uniforms. The garments (or “garmets,” according to the Sun-Times) were sent to a lab in Virginia to make sure there was nothing seriously wrong with the outfits. CFD spokesman Larry Langford says the firefighters were never in danger, but who knows what other, more dangerous situations could happen out there?

All this puts fuel to an already raging fire surrounding Lion Apparel, the Ohio-based company that supplied the gear. Firefighter Union members claim the City awarded the contract to Lion Apparel without doing enough research on them first, nor testing competing equipment in a controlled, scientific environment. (We’re thinking “Mythbusters.”) They also claimed they were shut out of the decision process. City Hall, involved in shady contract dealings? Who’da thunk it? And why screw firefighters over on uniforms that could potentially mean the difference between life and death?

Image courtesy of Jeff Cagle.