Shawnee firefighters learn sewing as cost-cutting, efficiency move

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SHAWNEE, Kan. — They’ve reaped great rewards at one metro fire department.

It’s thanks to the initiative of two firefighters who’ve learned to sew, repairing torn and frayed protective fire garments efficiently by becoming do-it-yourself tailors.

A stitch in time has saved far more than nine. Five years ago, a bright idea occurred to Shawnee Firefighters Capt. Andy Fenstermann and Mike Owens, Junior, both of whom were tired of having to send torn fire gear back to the manufacturer to be repaired. That company,  which is based in Ohio, required that only certified repair techs could repair their garments. Fenstermann said every time he’d send an item for repair, it would be gone for months before he’d see it again.

“Just being able to get gear back in use so fast is worth it,” Fenstermann said.

Owens and Fenstermann said they got officially certified via the manufacturer. The Shawnee Fire Department headquarters has a sewing room, where, during the past five years, Owens, Fenstermann and others have done scores of repairs for themselves and other firefighters, helping them make better use of the gear they wear while they’re saving lives. Owens said each time he’d sent items away for repair, it would cost the Shawnee Fire Department at least $200 per transaction. Now, that work is done by firefighters who volunteer their downtime.

“I knew that once my pants went away to get repaired, it was going to be several weeks before they came back and I was going to be in old pants that didn`t fit me very well,” Capt. Fenstermann added.

It’s hard to say how many thousands of dollars Fenestermann, Owens and their team have saved the Shawnee Fire Department. Owens says preventative maintenance has also saved him some trouble, since the last worry he needs while battling a blaze is a loose thread. 

“We’ve learned a ton just working on gear over the years, just the best ways to get to things and the best ways to fix things,” Fenstermann said.

By doing the work themselves, they can do more for the people they serve. Fenstermann said the trend is catching on. He said he knows of at least one other Johnson County fire squad doing the same thing, using internal certified help to repair damaged gear.

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