July 3, 2018
District Chief Frank Gillis and District Chief David Squires are JFRD's Firefighters of the Year.

For the second year in a row, the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department’s Firefighter of the Year selection has not been directly related to a specific call for emergency service. In both years, JFRD has honored personnel for an exceptional commitment to the department. Two years ago, JFRD recognized a member for her longstanding and leadership commitment to the department’s Honor Guard. This year’s selection involves two District Chiefs whose actions are yielding immediate and ongoing benefits for JFRD personnel.
A couple of years ago, Chief Frank Gillis and Chief David Squires volunteered to take on a very significant project within JFRD’s Safety Committee. There was an opportunity to purchase new bunker gear for the entire department. This is the gear that firefighters wear to protect them from exposure to fire, hazardous materials and other dangerous environments. Together, Gillis and Squires accepted the responsibility to ensure that the department’s firefighters have the most effective bunker gear possible.
Gillis and Squires invested hundreds of off-duty hours communicating with numerous manufacturers, researching a large variety of protective materials and considering numerous design options for the new bunker gear. They invested months in exchanging ideas with bunker gear vendors to develop prototype gear that was superior to JFRD’s existing gear. They even researched the thermal properties of different thread colors, which can actually make a difference.   
Gillis and Squires used a scientific approach, which was guided by National Fire Protection Association standards, to custom design the prototype gear specifications.
From June through October 2017, they conducted a comprehensive study involving 54 firefighters assigned to some of JFRD’s busiest fire suppression companies. The group tested five sets of prototype gear, each set provided by a different manufacturer.
Each firefighter wore the different gear during a variety of evolutions, including burns for radiant and convective heat, an agility test, a simulated bailout and use of the drag rescue device. In general, the firefighters evaluated the gear based on ergonomics and thermal protection. Another test factor was durability, such as resistance to tearing and stretching. Firefighters even washed each manufacturer’s gear 13 times during the trial period.
When the testing was complete, Gillis and Squires analyzed the results of their study and then refined the design specifications for the optimal bunker gear in terms of protection and performance. Once a vendor was selected, the process entered the manufacturing phase. Recruit Class 1-18, which graduated in February 2018, was the first to receive the new gear, and one of those graduates recently put the gear to an extreme test during a structure fire. The probationary firefighter was surrounded by fire and it directly impinged his gear. Though his helmet and visor look like the charcoal remnants from a cook out, he did not suffer injuries because of his newly-designed gear and heeding an order to evacuate the structure.
JFRD has since ordered gear for all field personnel and is issuing it in phases.
Firefighters are noticing how the gear fits better and offers a better range of motion. The coat pockets are compartmentalized and reinforced to accommodate tools. And the pants have fire-resistant silicone in the knees which eases the physical rigors of the job.
JFRD recognized Gillis and Squires in June at the department’s annual awards ceremony, presenting each man with the Firefighter of the Year Award.