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Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Traditional Firefighter Helmet Meets The Jetsons

A new, European-designed fire helmet.
It is not uncommon to hear the phrase, “The American fire service is 200 years of tradition not impeded by progress.” The line normally brings a few chuckles and nods of affirmation. One example and symbol of that tradition has been the firefighters’ helmet. Historically it has had the long brim in back and usually a high crown in front, often with a leather shield or emblem to identify the firefighter, station, or unit number.

Recently, a few Minnesota fire departments have started to transition to a “European-designed” fire helmet that is similar to a motorcycle helmet. White Bear Fire Chief Tim Vadnais said he had noticed his firefighters taking off their helmets when working at the scene of car accidents: “The helmet was in the way when they needed to get into the car to care for the victim and during extrication,” he said.
The new helmets perform better at highway scenes.

But on the highway, working in traffic in a wrecked car was not the time to be taking off their helmets, the chief said. Vadnais said the new helmets are more balanced, more comfortable, and provide added safety for the firefighter’s head and eyes. The helmet has two built-in face shields that can be pulled down for protection. White Bear has 25 of these helmets in service and is about to place an order for more.

Eagan Fire Chief Mike Scott was likewise concerned that their traditional helmets were being removed at highway scenes. The Eagan department had also seen their traditional helmets as a detriment while performing their self-rescue drills. The helmet would get caught in the sheetrock and wiring as the firefighters broke through walls while training on this critical lifesaving skill in the “tangle maze” prop.

The helmets have two face shields to protect firefighters.

The new helmet is smooth and round, and “goes right through.” Eagan now has 30 of the helmets in service and is planning on ordering more. Most of the firefighters love them, he said. They come in a range of colors, and include an option for an LED light on the front of the helmet. Chief Scott said in addition to providing light, they allow firefighters to locate each other even in heavy smoke.

The new helmets cost about $100 more than the average helmets currently in service, and are cheaper than some of the leather helmets. Most of the Eagan helmets were paid for by donations. Chief Scott said they acquired one helmet to test prior to placing their order. The young firefighter who was assigned the helmet quickly picked up the name “Rosie.” I asked if that was because the helmet was made by Rosenbauer International. “No,” Chief Scott said. “It was because the other firefighters thought he looked like the character Rosie the Maid from the cartoon show ‘The Jetsons.’”

I guess not all firehouse traditions are changing.


                                               Responder Safety = Public Safety

Up next time: “They Gathered Only Twice: The Team of People Who Saved Two Lives”

In the meantime, stay safe and be careful.


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