Helmets of the fire service

By Shane Wells
of the Leatherhead Instructors

I have had a large variety of helmets in my 20 plus years as a firefighter; they range from inexpensive fiberglass helmets to quite expensive leather helmets. The first helmet that I had was a Cairns Fiberglass “salad bowl” Helmet, and now I have a Sam Houston Leather Helmet. There are differences in style, comfort, fit, and weight between the two; both have acceptable ratings.

I consider there to be three types of helmets that we typically see in the United States; leather, composite, and proximity. There are many styles that can be chosen among them, but the three listed types cover most of the bases. Each department really needs to do their research as to what fits them, and uniformity should be considered. Do not allow “what’s popular” to dictate what you get!

There are several things that should be considered when deciding what helmets to purchase for your department. Cost, amount of calls that you respond to, types of service provided (structural, technical rescue, airport crash rescue), turnover rate of your department (applies more to part time and volunteer), and ratings. Some departments opt to use different types of helmets for technical rescue, or wild land firefighting. A leather helmet is a poor choice for a department that uses one helmet and does technical rescue, due to the weight. Be wary of the first salesman that walk in your door and offers the cheapest price; cheapest is NOT always best! Something in the middle may be a good place to start.

I received a LION American Heritage Classic Helmet about two years ago to use while teaching classes, and I have to say that it is one of the most comfortable helmets that I have had the privilege of wearing. It has the look of a traditional leather helmet, but the weight of a composite. The helmet has held up well during the trainings that it has been worn during, and I look forward to wearing it for years to come. We wear Leather Sam Houston’s for our primary helmet, a Cairns 1010 composite as a backup, and a separate helmet for wild land and technical rescue at my department. We are given a leather helmet once our probationary period is met and these helmets remain with us for our career; we get to take them when we retire.

I hope that this helps you in your decision making regarding the purchase and use of helmets.