The less weight on the foot, the less stress on a firefighter’s body, whether working at the scene of a fire or performing other tasks while wearing personal protective equipment (PPE). To help reduce that stress, manufacturers are finding ways to shave weight off structural firefighting boots while making them as protective and comfortable as possible.
Six for One Not a Deal
Diane Bible, senior product manager for footwear at Honeywell First Responder Products, points out that research has shown wearing one pound of weight on the foot is like carrying 6.4 pounds on the back. “Firefighters today are significantly younger than those of the past generation and they want lighter-weight boots, but we have to draw a fine line between light weight and safety,” Bible says. “And in the last five years, we’ve seen boots introduced that are based on the way athletic shoes are constructed, both in the welts and the overall design, that offer more flexibility and comfort.”
Bible notes that Honeywell First Responder Products makes a lightweight series of structural firefighting boots called the Pro Warrington series, which includes the Model 4200 14-inch bunker hybrid boot and Model 5006 14-inch leather bunker boot.
The Model 5006 is made on a Goodyear welt construction with full-grain military AB leather, a Crosstech moisture barrier, a Kevlar felt thermal barrier, a thermoplastic heel counter, a removable cushioned insert, and a Vibram Fire and Ice lug sole. Tony Wyman, Honeywell’s vice president of marketing, says the Model 5006 “is the lightest leather boot in the fire service at 5.3 pounds for a size nine boot.” He points out that Honeywell is now shipping its Model 5007 leather boot in the same height but with heavier leather side stays and back, as well as rounded off pull straps. The 5007 keeps the same Kevlar thermal barrier and Vibram sole as the Model 5006.
The Model 4200 hybrid boot is made with a rubber foot area to provide additional protection from moisture and biological elements, according to Bible, while the top of the boot is constructed with a Nomex material with a full Crosstech moisture barrier. Bible says, “The 4200 boot weighs five pounds or less, depending on the size.”
All of the Pro Warrington boots use steel bottom plates and toes, instead of Lenzi liners, composite plates, or toe caps, Wyman points out. “Firefighers are clamoring for lighter-weight boots and gear, so we’re determining if the composites will give enough protection as steel does in toe caps and bottom plates,” he says. “We’re investigating the composites but want to determine what will be the safest for firefighters in the long run. We want to make absolutely sure what we put out there is safe.”
Mark Mordecai, director of business development for Globe Manufacturing Inc., says when manufacturers talk about lighter weight in PPE, they’re actually talking about the lack of restriction. “The same is true on the footwear side, where it’s not only the weight but the flexibility of the boot that give the experience of feeling more comfortable,” he points out. “We want to give firefighters lighter-weight boots and gear, but not at the expense of durability.”
Mordecai notes that while Globe’s structural firefighting boots are not the lightest boots on the market, light weight is relative. “The principal difference in our footwear is that we brought an athletic construction to our boots that completely changed the fit and feel of the product,” he says. “When firefighters put their feet into our boots, they say, ‘wow.’ That’s not about light weight; it’s about flexibility.”
Globe makes the Structural Supreme, a 14-inch pull-on boot made of flame-resistant and waterproof leather protected by a Crosstech moisture barrier and a Nomex/Kevlar protective shield. It includes a Heelport internal fit system consisting of a foam insert that holds the heel securely and cushions the ankle, a molded heel counter, a composite shank, Lenzi puncture protection, and a Vibram outsole with slip-resistant tread. Globe also offers a similar model called the Shadow, as well as a Structural 12-inch zipper/speed lace leather boot.
“Roughly half the weight of boots is in the soles,” Mordecai observes. “You can lighten up the uppers, but you can’t cut back on the amount of neoprene in the soles without affecting the durability, flexibility, and abrasion resistance of the boot. Lighter is not always better and weight is always an issue, but flexibility is first for us.”
Rob Mills, president of Black Diamond Group, says his company’s X2 boot integrates a lot of the weight reduction that firefighters are looking for in their footwear. “The technology from running and hiking shoes translates into firefighting boots,” he says, “because firefighters are occupational athletes who have to move well and carry a lot of heavy equipment.”
Black Diamond’s X2 uses a combination of leather and turnout gear material for the upper, Mills notes, to help reduce weight and create more breathability in the boot. The leather upper is FireTuff flame retardant, while the Fusion upper combines the durability of Nomex, the strength and abrasion resistance of Kevlar, and the water resistance of Teflon FPPE. The boot has a Crosstech membrane with Omaha lining. The X2 has a three-point heel lock system, a steel toe, an Ortholite footbed, and a Lenzi puncture protection midsole.
“We use a cemented sole shell mold that allows the foot to fit deeper into the boot to help reduce ankle rollover and sprains, which are hazards in the fire industry,” Mills points out. “By using the shell model, we are able to reduce the weight of the outsole itself, compared to the older Goodyear welt construction.” The shell mold also allows more surface-to-surface contact with the outsole and the opportunity to put in more compounds for slip resistance, he adds.
Lightweight But Safe
Sandy Longarzo, marketing director for Haix, says her company has introduced the Fire Hero Xtreme, a shorter version of Haix’s structural firefighting boot. “It’s 11 inches high instead of 14 inches and meets all National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1971, Standard on Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting, requirements,” Longarzo says. “The shorter boot makes it lighter, but it still has the same functionality as the higher boot. It mainly was developed for harder-to-fit individuals.”
The Fire Hero Xtreme is made with waterproof leather for its upper; is lined with a Crosstech moisture barrier; and has a Carbon HX lightweight protective toe cap, a steel puncture protective sole, cut protection against chainsaw cuts, and a heat-resistant Nitrile/rubber sole.
In addition, Haix makes the Fire Hunter USA boot, also in an 11-inch height but with a steel toe, Longarzo says, “as an economic alternative for those fire departments that want to make the switch from rubber to leather structural firefighting boots.”
The challenge to manufacturers, Longarzo believes, lies in responding to firefighter needs for more comfort and lighter weight in their boots, yet not compromising safety. “We don’t want to make boots too lightweight where it would sacrifice quality or safety,” she points out. “We still have to provide proper heat and ankle protection for the firefighter.”
ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Arizona-based freelance writer and is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. He served 22 years with the Verdoy (NY) Fire Department, including in the position of chief.