At one time not long ago, rubber boots were the norm to complement a turnout coat, bunker pants, helmet, and gloves. Not anymore.
Manufacturers are turning out a wide array of firefighting boots in leather models that are functional, are ergonomically designed, provide safe footing and protection, and are more comfortable compared with their rubber ancestors.
Rob Mills, president of Black Diamond Group, notes that one data source he reviewed shows that through the first half of 2015, approximately 65 percent of the structural firefighting boots sold in the United States were leather models.
Steve Allison, director of sales and marketing for Fire-Dex, thinks the percentage of leather boot usage in the United States is closer to 70 percent, which he believes will continue to grow.
Karen Lehtonen, vice president of innovation and product management for Lion, agrees that many fire departments either have made the switch from rubber to leather boots or are contemplating doing so when budgets permit.
Sandy Longarzo, marketing administration manager for Haix North America Inc., says information gleaned at the Fire and Emergency Manufacturers and Services Association (FEMSA) annual meeting shows that the proportion of leather structural firefighting boots has grown in the overall market nationally to about double the number of units compared with rubber structural boots.
Mark Mordecai, director of business development for Globe Manufacturing Co., Mark Winters, senior technical project manager for Honeywell First Responder Products, and Jeff Burns, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Thorogood Shoes, each estimate that leather structural firefighting boots make up between 60 and 65 percent of the national market.
Josh Frank, Lion’s product manager for footwear, says that with leather structural firefighting boots like Lion’s Marshall 14-inch-high model, “the first thing the wearer notices is the comfort, which you can’t get in rubber boots.” In addition, he says, Lion’s leather boots are more flexible and form-fitting. “We use a Lock-Fit Ankle Support system that clicks the foot into place inside the boot,” Frank points out. “The boot is designed to be comfortable to prevent excess fatigue and to fit well so that slips and falls are uncommon.”
|1 Lion makes the 14-inch-high Marshall structural firefighting boot that has a Lock-Fit Ankle Support system built in. (Photo courtesy of Lion.)|
Lion boots have a slip-resistant Vibram Fire & Ice sole, breathable and absorbent Cambrelle lining, polyfelt and aluminized felt insulation for protection from radiant heat, Pierce-Protect Arch Protection System, a molded thermoplastic heel counter, and a tempered steel safety toe. Besides the Marshall model, Lion also makes the 12-inch-high Commander lace-up leather boot with a side zipper for easy entry and the Battalion boot for structural firefighting, proximity firefighting, and liquid splash protection, Frank says.
|2 The 12-inch-high Commander leather structural firefighting boot is a lace-up model with a side zipper for easy entry. (Photo courtesy of Lion.)|
|3 Black Diamond makes the X2 structural leather firefighting boot that is a combination of leather and a fusion fabric made from Kevlar and Nomex. (Photo courtesy of Black Diamond.)|
Mills says his company makes the X2 structural leather boot that’s a combination of leather and a Kevlar-Nomex fusion fabric. “Three generations of firefighters were brought up wearing sneakers, so they like the big difference in leather boots because of the fit and comfort compared with rubber boots.” He says Black Diamond took the attributes of athletic shoes and engineered those features into its X2 leather boots. “They are lighter in weight, are more flexible, offer more stability and support, and are more athletic in design. So, it’s easier for a firefighter to move from place to place, climb ladders, or perform other firefighting jobs.”
|4 The X2 boot uses a three-point heel lock system to provide stability and support and to allow more athletic movement. (Photo courtesy of Black Diamond.)|
Longarzo says her company’s top-of-the line model is the Fire Hero Extreme, a 12½-inch-high leather boot with a water-ice-grip sole, a built-in boot jack at the back, and additional side ankle and shin protection. “It’s become a very popular model in colder climates because of its ice-grip sole,” she observes. “Fire Hero also uses a flexible carbon fiber composite toe cap, which surpasses compressing testing requirements but gives enough room for the toes.”
Haix also makes the Fire Hunter Extreme leather structural boot, a 14-inch-high model with a similar sole, elastic banding for extra ankle support, added shin protection, and greater ankle flexation. “The trend is to develop more flexible and lighter-weight boots,” Longarzo adds.
Mordecai points to a series of National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) studies that concluded lighter-weight boots would lead to less physiological strain on a firefighter. “Leather boots are lighter than their rubber counterparts,” he says, “and they also are more flexible, which means less strain on the wearer.”
|5 Globe Manufacturing Company’s Supreme leather structural firefighting boot features athletic footwear construction, which allows the wearer to flex 50 degrees. (Photo courtesy of Globe Manufacturing Co.)|
Globe makes five models of leather firefighting boots: the Supreme, Shadow, Super Light, Onyx, and Proximity. “The 14-inch Supreme is our largest seller,” Mordecai notes, “followed by the Super Light, which has more flexibility and is lighter in weight. It’s also a 14-inch-high boot, and it uses uppers of leather and fabric to shave weight and make it more flexible.”
|6 The Proximity leather boot, by Globe Manufacturing, is designed for structural, ARFF, fuel fires, and hazmat incidents. (Photo courtesy of Globe Manufacturing Co.)|
Mordecai says Globe’s Shadow boot is designed for gear with narrow cuff openings; Onyx is a simpler and less expensive model; and Proximity is designed for aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF), fuel fires, and hazmat incidents.
Honeywell First Responder Products
Winters says Honeywell makes five structural firefighting models of leather boots in its PRO series. The Model 5006B has been a perennial best seller, he notes, “that has the characteristics common to all our boots-quality, durability, and rugged protection. This model has a notched back that facilitates its use for firefighters with wider calves.” The 5007 leather boot is a more recent model, Winters says, “incorporating refinements in appearance and a heel design that improves boot standup life. The heel counter, liner, and strategically placed foam hug the heel and ankle area.” Other Honeywell leather boots include the 4132, 3009, and 5050B models, he adds.
Allison says his company makes the FDXL 50 gray leather boot with a traditional welted sole, while the FDXL 100 is a red leather boot with a cemented sole that gives more of an athletic shoe fit. “The FDXL 100 uses a Vibram Fire & Ice compound sole that gives incredible performance in slip resistance and flexibility, whether it’s hot or cold,” he says. The interior of the FDXL 100 has a three-layer multidensity foot bed, Allison adds. “There’s a memory foam that leaves an impression for the user that gives a cradling effect,” he points out. “The second part is a polyurethane foam that acts as a shock absorber, and then there are gel packs at the ball and heel of the foot, which are high-impact areas.” The FDXL 50 uses a dual-density Smart Foam insert with no gel packs, he notes.
|7 Fire-Dex makes the FDXL 100 red leather boot with a cemented sole that gives it an athletic fit and a Vibram Fire & Ice sole for slip resistance and flexibility. (Photo courtesy of Fire-Dex.)|
Both models have W.L. Gore Crosstech vapor barrier inside; full grain 2.2-millimeter tanned, waterproof, heavy-weight leather that’s soft and supple; a Kevlar/Nomex blend thermal barrier; a Lenzi puncture-resistant barrier; a steel shank; and integrated handles instead of loops, Allison says.
Burns notes that his company makes six models of leather structural firefighting boots, with the 806-6373 being its most popular model. It features a 14-inch height, oblique toe, welted Vibram outsole, StedAir PTFE waterproof barrier that’s bloodborne-pathogen-compliant, and removable dual-density polyurethane foot bed.
|8 Thorogood Shoes makes the Knockdown Elite 804-6389 leather boot for both structural and hazardous materials firefighting. (Photo courtesy of Thorogood Shoes.)|
The 804-6391 is Thorogood’s 11-inch zip-up leather boot for structural and wildland firefighting. The 804-6391M is for structural, wildland, and urban search and rescue (USAR) firefighting and comes in an 11-inch size with a front zip and metatarsal guard across the top of the vamp.
Thorogood also makes the 084-6369 Power High Visibility 14-inch leather boot. “It has a Thorotech PTFE lining and a Vibram outsole,” Burns says, “and fits like a contoured work boot. Our Knockdown 804-6389 model has a Vibram outsole that’s extremely grippy and slip-resistant, where the tread pattern wraps around the outsole to the sidewall for extra grip. It’s for structural and hazardous materials firefighting.”
ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Arizona-based journalist 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.