Fires are dangerous, and firefighters must wear a lot of gear to put out the fires and stay safe in the process. They have their traditional helmet and boots, but as time has changed, so has this protective gear. Continue reading to learn all about how this different protective firefighting gear has changed over time.
How Does Firefighting Gear Work?
To better understand how firefighting protective gear has changed over time, it’s important to first start by learning how this gear works in the first place. Doing this allows you to better understand the changes and why they’ve happened.
One of the first pieces of gear you can typically identify on a firefighter is their helmet. These are durable, protecting the wearer from falling objects like rocks or tree limbs. Another important component of firefighting gear are brush shirts and pants. These repel heat and wick moisture away, so the wearer doesn’t get too hot and can still sweat and have some breathability. The manufacturers create these clothes in such a way as to insulate the wearer, while also being heat-resistant enough not to melt under extreme temperatures.
Firefighters also wear thick gloves and boots made of leather. The gloves can stretch past the wrist to handle hot objects, and the boots are reinforced, protecting the firefighter from sharp debris.
The Early Years
In the early years of firefighting, a lot of this equipment wasn’t available. Many early firefighters used wool to shield them from the heat as well as the cold, and later, rubber was developed as another protective layer. Early firefighters also wore leather helmets with a front shield and brim that rolled to a long back tail.
All this protective gear had limited capabilities, and it wasn’t until many years later that researchers developed better protective equipment. After World War II, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) developed the modern firefighting jacket with three layers. Later, they would also create standards for firefighting gear, both for structural firefighting and wildland firefighting. The NFPA 1977 Standard on Protective Clothing and Equipment for Wildland Fire Fighting and Urban Interface Fire Fighting defined the specific requirements for different gear, including the following:
- Work gloves
- Face and neck shroud
- Protective goggles
Modern firefighting gear is designed around these standards. Since these standards came out, most firefighting gear has been the same, though there have been some improvements with cutting-edge materials as new research emerges.
Wildland Brush Shirts and Pants
The principle behind brush shirts and pants hasn’t changed over the years, but technology certainly has. Modern equipment is made with durable and fire-resistant materials such as Tecasafe Plus or Nomex, Advance, and Pioneer. These synthetic aramid fabrics meet the NFPA 1977 standard and keep the wearer safe under even the most extreme temperatures. When exposed to flames, the fabric will burn; however, instead of melting as the burning stops, the top layer of fabric carbonizes and thickens, creating a barrier between the wearer and the fires. It can generally withstand temperatures of around 700 degrees Fahrenheit.
In previous years, the firefighting shirts would be treated with fire retardant chemicals and were normally bright orange. They were effective, but firefighters switched to the standard yellow shirts after aircraft assisting in suppressing the fire were unable to see the firefighters amongst the flames. Since both the fire and the firefighters were orange, those on the aircraft didn’t think firefighters were there and ended up dropping retardant on the firefighters. The yellow ensures this doesn’t happen, but it is still highly visible in the dark and smokey areas that wildland firefighters work in.
The shirts and pants are some of the most important pieces of equipment, but without the other accessories, the firefighters would still struggle significantly against the flames.
In addition to wearing fire-resistant materials, you must also wear cotton undergarments underneath the clothes. Alternative materials like nylon, rayon, or even polyester will melt into the skin when exposed to the extreme heat that wildland firefighters are under. Wearing these cotton undergarments is a requirement for wildland firefighters.
Another part of firefighting is face coverings. In addition to the fire helmets that protect from falling debris, wildland firefighters wear various face coverings. When firefighters work close to the flames and the smoke, they’ll wear shrouds that can filter the smoke and shield the wearer’s face from the heat. Another critical piece of face equipment is goggles or safety glasses, as it’s incredibly easy for smoke and other debris to accidentally get into the eyes without them.
Earplugs are another important accessory that firefighters often need to wear. Before earplugs, firefighters would struggle against the loud roar of the fires and the equipment they’re using. Today, wildland firefighters can easily use earplugs to protect themselves from loud noises like machinery, chainsaws, and roaring fires. The earplugs that firefighters use are made from rubber, foam, or other moldable products that can withstand intense heat.
Firefighting boots are another essential piece of equipment that can save firefighters’ lives out in the field. Boots are important in this field because they must be protective but also flexible enough that the wearer can use them for long hikes around the rugged terrain. Some fires will even happen around mountainsides, so there are additional mountaineering fire boots that wildland firefighters can wear to ensure they can do the job safely and effectively.
Testing the Gear
All firefighter gear parts work together and must pass different performance tests to ensure they’re up to code. They must have high thermal protective performance (TPP), effectively insulating the wearer from heat. The gear must also have high total heat loss (THL), a measurement of how quickly heat can transfer from the gear to the outside environment. Multiple other performance tests are used to ensure that firefighter gear meets certain standards and can protect firefighters even in the harshest conditions.
Firefighting protection gear has changed a lot over time, and it will likely continue to evolve as we learn more about learned about combatting fires and keeping firefighters safe. It’s a dangerous industry, and it’s important you have the right gear.
That’s where we at The Supply Cache come in. We have all the protective gear you’d need for wildland firefighting, including specialized wildland firefighter boots that can keep you comfortable and protected!