Leatherhead Thursday: A firefighter’s helmet

By J.R. Dennison
of the Leatherhead Instructors

Firefighters have worn helmets for centuries to protect them from falling objects and debris, but the variations in style, material, and safety features have changed dramatically.  Helmets today have safety features like adjustable chin straps, adjustable head bands, impact shells, reflective emblems, unit identification, and eye protection integrated; these guidelines are described in NFPA 1971.  The modern day fire helmet has much tradition, but safety and protection is its primary purpose.

The career of a firefighter can often be seen through condition of his or her helmet.  It is long standing tradition in the fire service to maintain that smoke and fire stained helmet to show what kind of firefighter you are, but recent studies show that this may not be a good idea for our health.  Firefighter’s helmets may be burnt, damaged, or smoky; at some point the condition of your helmet may decrease the safety mechanisms that they are designed for.  Helmets today are still found in many styles, but comfort guides the buyers.

The traditional leather fire helmet is my favorite.  The helmets weigh a bit more than composites, but the quality and look outweigh the difference for me.  I particularly like the “natural leather” helmets, but my department does not allow them.  Each firefighter on my department is given a new leather helmet at the conclusion of their probationary period by our chief; I find this to be rare, but quite classy.  We can select what goggles, eye shields, and décor we like for our helmets, but the shields and colors are all the same.

The health and safety changes in the recent years have forced firefighters to better care for their helmets and equipment.  These changes have helped introduce the idea of custom leather shields for our helmets.  There are many leather artists making beautiful custom shields for fire helmets across the world.  Some of these shields are quite detailed, while others are pretty basic.  These shields may set you apart from others, and it is certainly a safer way to keep tradition alive.

At the end of the day, a helmet is only as good as the care that you put into it.  Take the time to inspect your helmet and clean it regularly to help keep you safe.  Check out some of the custom shields that can set you and your department apart.  Find a helmet that is comfortable for you and familiarize yourself with its functions.

Stay safe and train hard!

LION is interested in your thoughts concerning firefighting helmets. Please take a few moments to give us your feedback in this helmet survey.