By Chris Mc Loone
In October I brought an alternative style helmet to a live burn evolution my fire company conducted at our training facility. Our captain had mentioned he wanted to give it a try. He was stoking the fires that night, and I stayed outside where I usually run accountability for these types of drills.
He came out after the first burn and didn’t have anything bad to say about the helmet except that he could see how some might have difficulty hearing because of the way the helmet encapsulates the wearer’s head.
That night I walked around in between burns, offering other firefighters the opportunity, and I was surprised that no one else would give it a try. I thought, “Well geez. The captain gave it a whirl. That should be enough for other people to give it a try,” but that was not to be. One other person that night tried it on.
So this month (November) when we had our burn drill, I decided I would try it. I stoked fires on the first floor while another member took care of the second and third floors.
Now before everyone goes to town critiquing my turnout gear: the picture to the right was taken between burns, so my jacket is unzipped slightly, and I do not have the front clip of the SCBA on yet. Rest assured, when I reentered the building , both issues were rectified. The first thing you should notice from the picture is how this style helmet does not “sit” on the top of your head the same way a more traditional helmet does.
During the burns, I had no issue with the helmet. It fit well, it was light on my head, and I really did not notice it at all. As the temperature in the room I was in increased, I did not feel the heat on my head, where with a traditional helmet, even with a hood on and ear flaps down, I could still feel the sensation. Now, this could be an issue for those who feel that without that sensation they might stay in a heated environment too long. That is a valid concern, and since this was my first time using it and in a training environment, I can’t say whether or not that would be an issue for me during a fire. I did not experience any problems hearing.
I’m glad I at least tried it out. I heard the snickers. I got the long looks. One firefighter did ask to try it on, and he said, “I’ll stick with my firefighting helmet.” I’m not sure what the resistance is, whether it’s just the look of the helmet or just that it is something new.
So, I did not have any problems with the helmet. Does that mean I’m going to leave this on the gear rack and wear it all the time? No. There are a couple of reasons. This helmet has not been fully vetted by my fire company at this time. Second, it is not uniform with our other helmets. Even if it had been fully vetted, I am not allowed to just change my helmet.
I am not suggesting any department make a wholesale change to any type of helmet. I am suggesting that maybe if you have an opportunity to try an alternative style, take the opportunity. You might be surprised and actually not mind it. And, think about this: when I took off the helmet, my hair did not smell like smoke.
So, I gave an alternative style helmet a try. And, I lived to tell the tale. The traditional helmet gods did not strike me down where I stood for blasphemy. Oh, and just for full disclosure, this is my favorite helmet:
That’s the first helmet I wore as a rookie firefighter. The whole fire company switched to a different style not too many years later. But, if I could go back to that one, I would in a heartbeat. It just fits me better. And, maybe there’s a little bit of nostalgia there as well.
CHRIS Mc LOONE, senior editor of Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment, is a 26-year veteran of the fire service currently serving as a safety officer and is a former assistant chief with Weldon Fire Company (Glenside, PA). He has served on past apparatus and equipment purchasing committees. He has also held engineering officer positions, where he was responsible for apparatus maintenance and inspection. He has been a writer and editor for more than 25 years.