Helmets: The 10-year service life

By Robert Tutterow
For Fire Apparatus Magazine

A recent New York Post article about Fire Department of New York (FDNY) firefighters and the disposal of their old helmets created quite a buzz in the fire service networking community. The firefighters were upset on two counts. First, they saw no reason to turn in their helmets because they were 10 years old. Second, if they wished to keep their old helmets as keepsakes (not for use in the field), they had to pay for the helmets. The amount depended on years of service. It was $100 for less than 20 years, $50 for 20-30 years, and free for more than 30 years.

The basis of this controversy is the personal protective equipment (PPE) retirement criteria found in National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1851, Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting. The standard requires that any element (helmet, hood, gloves, boots, turnout coat, and trousers) of the PPE ensemble be removed from service after ten years from the date of manufacture. This requirement has been in effect for several years. However, the FDNY story brought the issue to the forefront.

A Long Time Coming

The NFPA Technical Committee responsible for this document has discussed PPE retirement for many, many years. The committee was in total agreement that there is PPE in use that can no longer provide firefighter life safety protections. After extensive debate, there was a general consensus that PPE elements should not be left in service after 10 years. The focus of this discussion was on turnout coats and pants. Once there was a consensus, there was little controversy over hoods, gloves, and footwear. However, there was, and continues to be, disagreement on retiring helmets. Important to note is that many within the fire service think the retirement criteria are driven by the manufacturers so they can sell more products. That is simply not true. It was the fire service that pushed the technical committee to develop minimum requirements for retiring PPE.

Read the full article on Fire Apparatus.