|Fire-Dex’s leather firefighting boot is a slip-on model with a composite toe cap, molded cemented outsole, puncture resistant fabric layer, and fatigue-reducing cushioned liner. (Photos courtesy of Fire-Dex.)|
Technological advances in the military boot and athletic shoe fields have been adapted to firefighting boots by manufacturers seeking to improve on a piece of personal protection gear that has seemingly resisted change for a number of years.
These days boot makers are producing structural firefighting boots in both slip-on and lace-up models that give firefighters a closer and better fit, are more durable and protective, and are more comfortable to wear for long periods of time.
Globe Manufacturing Corp. has been involved in improving firefighting boots for about ten years, ever since it received a grant from the Federal Department of Homeland Security to build chemical and biological protections into fire gear, says Rob Freese, senior vice president of marketing.
“At that time, we realized we had to have boots that worked in the same way, so we teamed up with Falcon Performance Footwear, in Lewiston, Maine, to develop a structural firefighting boot based on an athletic shoe.”
Out of Globe’s research and development came a family of firefighting boots—the Supreme, a 14-inch all-leather pull-on; the Shadow, a simplified version of the Supreme; a 12-inch lace-up structural boot for when additional support is needed; a 10-inch technical rescue boot; and a 14-inch leather pull-on proximity boot.
Basing the boots on athletic shoe designs, Freese points out, means the boots are more flexible, making them easier to wear and walk in, especially because the design allows the flexible treading to provide an improved grip on surfaces. The Supreme’s Vibram contoured cup outsole wraps onto the upper for athletic shoe-type performance, he says.
“We worked on the tread compounding to be sure our footwear resisted heat and flame well but also to make sure it was flexible in cold weather because slips and falls are big issues with firefighters in colder weather,” Freese observes.
The shaft of the Supreme features a protective shield of Nomex and Kevlar fiber that protects the Crosstech moisture barrier and provides cut resistance as well as thermal protection, Freese notes. And while in the past, steel was used for puncture protection in a boot’s shank, Globe turned to Lenzi in Italy for a high-performance composite penetration-resistant sole made from multiple layers of HT ceramic material that Freese calls “ballistic armor for your feet.”
The Supreme also has a composite safety toe cap that is lighter than steel, doesn’t transmit cold, and exceeds NFPA standards for safety.
Globe’s Shadow firefighting boot is a simplified version of the Supreme with similar fit characteristics, Freese says, but uses a more simplified version of the shaft and doesn’t have all of the Supreme’s premium components.
Ultimately, Globe’s relationship with Falcon Performance Footwear grew so much that Globe purchased the firm and then opened a new manufacturing facility in Auburn, Maine. Freese says that Globe “is now the second largest footwear manufacturer for the fire service, behind Honeywell First Responder Products, and the only company owning its own U.S.-based factory.”
Diane Bible, senior product manager for Honeywell First Responder Products, says that some of the materials that go into Honeywell’s Pro Warrington line of fire boots have come out of military applications, especially footwear fabrics.
“The development in boots and shoes that is happening in parallel with the military and athletics is being used in the fire service,” Bible says. “The younger generation is used to wearing sneakers and sandals, so, in combat boots, comfort is number one with them, alongside a boot to protect them. The fire service is seeing similar wants and is responding to the needs of younger firefighters.”
Bible points out that the military used a Goodyear welt technology (where the outsole is sewn to the upper) in its boots until the first Gulf War, when it moved toward a cementing technology of attaching the outsole.
“A similar thing happened with the fire service,” she notes. “The fire service and the military are very similar in that they both stress teamwork and accountability, work under strenuous conditions, and carry heavy equipment all the time, whether under fire or in a fire.”
Like the military, Honeywell’s boot designers realized that lightening footwear was an important element in a boot’s design.
“A military study found that each pound taken off the foot is equal to taking 6.4 pounds off a soldier’s back,” Bible says.
Accordingly, Honeywell developed its Pro Warrington Model 4200 14-inch fire boot, which at 4.9 pounds Bible called “the lightest on the market.” The boot is available in both Goodyear welt and cemented outsole construction.
“We use the Fire & Ice compound in making the tread design with a Vibram sole that’s a bit softer and grippier, which is important in cold weather conditions because it is more pliable and doesn’t slip as much as other outsole compounds do,” Bible says.
The 4200 is a slip-on boot made with a full grain military AB leather over puncture (Kevlar®), moisture (Crosstech), and thermal (Nomex) barriers on the shaft and features an athletic construction for better fit, performance, and durability.
The boot has a thermoplastic heel counter, Bulldog steel toe, and full steel protective bottom plate and ladder shank.
Honeywell also makes several other models of 14-inch pull-on leather bunker boots, a 10-inch speed-zip leather firefighting boot, eight-inch technical rescue and wildland boots, as well as Ranger and Servus rubber firefighting boots in various models and heights.
Lion manufactures two styles of leather structural firefighting boots, says Karen Lehtonen, director of products. These are the Marshall, a 14-inch pull-on, and the Commander, a 12-inch zip-lace firefighting boot.
Lehtonen says developing the two boot styles takes some elements from military boots and others from athletic footwear “to focus on comfort and safety in a fire boot. If the boot is not comfortable,” she notes, “it can lead to trips and falls.”
The two designs use a Crosstech fabric membrane and a slip-resistant microfiber protective heel strip that enhances foot stability and minimizes lining wear.
“We also use a Lock-Fit Ankle Support System that provides anatomical ankle padding to ensure the foot is securely positioned within the boot,” Lehtonen says. “We incorporate an Ortholite foot bed that allows better memory to conform to the foot time and again.”
The Marshall and Command both have a Lenzi puncture-resistant midsole, a wide-fitting toe cap with rubber lip that can withstand an impact of up to 92.2 foot pounds, and Goodyear storm welt construction and a Vibram Fire & Ice sole for durability and superior traction in all temperature extremes.
Dan Foster, footwear category manager at Fire-Dex, says footwear manufacturers, while adapting military and athletic shoe technologies, are more reactive to those technologies and able to make changes faster to improve the components and the products.
Foster says Fire-Dex collaborated with Jones and Vining in Massachusetts to develop a last that gave the best fit, feel, and comfort in the internal foot cavity.
“We wanted the boot to be roomy so the foot fits in it comfortably but not too tight,” Foster says, “and be broad on the bottom at the outsole yet still have minimal heel slippage.”
The result was the Fire-Dex firefighting boot, a pull-on model made from silicone-tanned flame-retardant leather over a Crosstech moisture barrier, Polybelt insulation, and Kevlar thermal and cut-resistant barrier.
The boot uses a composite toe cap, molded cement outsole with articulating louvers to give added traction on the medial side of the foot, and a no-skid sole pattern to reduce slippage in wet conditions and release water from being trapped beneath the outsole.
The insole features a multi-density foot bed, Lenzi puncture-resistant fabric layer, antibacterial and anti-odor sock liner, energy-return polyurethane to cushion the foot and reduce leg fatigue, and EVA memory foam that takes the shape of the foot over time to create a cradle effect.
Foster says the boot’s heel roll-back is made so the back 25 percent of the heel curves up and off the ground. “If you had a 90-degree angle with the heel coming straight down, all the impact when you walked would be on that edge, concentrating the impact energy on a narrow area,” Foster points out. “With our heel, the 25 percent curve helps disperse the impact energy to a wider area.”
Foster notes the Fire-Dex boot also has a toe spring area where the toe area of the sole comes off the ground, “which creates a natural walking motion.” He says Fire-Dex adapted the technology from the running shoe industry.
The boot’s insole is a three-density liner that has two gel drops of high-density polyurethane—one each at the heel and toe—to help absorb and disperse energy, a layer of medium-density polyurethane to absorb shock, and a layer of memory foam to remember the shape of the foot.
Fire-Dex also makes a pull-on rubber boot for structural firefighting.
While the firefighting footwear market has dramatically changed in the past few years, the manufacturers agree that the changes mean better boots for firefighters.
“It really is true that these are not your grandpa’s firefighting boots anymore,” says Freese. “The technology and components being used today to make fire boots mean they are durable, are comfortable, and help in firefighter safety.”
ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Arizona-based freelance writer who writes for national and regional magazines and newspapers 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.