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Fire Helmets and Helmet Lights

Updated on December 13, 2012

Fire Rescue and EMS helmets

Fire helmets have been around for a few hundred years and come in different shapes and sizes. They are essential and the most sacred of fire gear.

Technological advancements have resulted in lighter weight, stronger and more advanced fire helmets. Improvements in lighting technology (especially with LEDs) have enabled lighting tools to be mounted to firefighter helmets.

The goal of this lens is to explain the different types of helmets used in fire, rescue and EMS. New helmet mounted lights will be highlighted along with items to consider when purchasing fire helmets and lights. Flashlights, box lights and right angle lights will not be discussed in this lens.

Fire Helmets: A Quick History

Jacobus Turck is credited with inventing the first fire cap around 1740. It was made of leather with a high crown and narrow rim.

Henry T. Gratacap is credited with the creation of the traditional American fire helmet. He built it around 1836 and called it the "New Yorker" (picture below). FDNY adopted the helmet in the late 1800s.

Two brothers named Cairns are credited with mounting a leather identification badge to the front of Gratacap's helmet.

Those early helmets had an eagle sculpted on the fire helmet as a memorial for a fallen firefighter in the early 1800s. In Canada, a beaver ornament is used (in place of an eagle).

The New Yorker helmet along with the eagle and leather ID badges are all part of firefighter traditional and are all used to this day in traditional leather firefighter helmets.

Link/credit: http://www.salisburyfools.com/helmet_history.html

Paul Conway American Classid Fire helmet
Paul Conway American Classid Fire helmet

Traditional structural fire helmets

- Made of leather or composite material

- Rear brim longer than front brim

- Have brass (eagle, beaver, etc.) at top with leather ID badge

- Reflective tape/stickers are usually placed around top of helmet for increased visibility

- These are the heaviest of helmets and weigh around 5 lbs (2.3 kg)

Morning Pride LIte Force Plus Helmet
Morning Pride LIte Force Plus Helmet

Modern structural fire helmets

- Made of thermoplastic or composite material

- Rear brim longer than front brim

- ID leather badge on front; ID sticker or job function written on front or side of helmet

- Reflective tape/stickers are usually placed around top of helmet for increased visibility

- These weigh around 3.5 lbs (1.6 kg)....a full 1.5 lbs less than traditional helmets

Gallet / F1 Fire Helmet
Gallet / F1 Fire Helmet

European Gallet helmets

- European Gallet (also called F1 or F2) fire helmets look very different (and far more futuristic) than American helmets. These are made by MSA (Mine Safety Appliances...they also own Cairns) and have an integrated shield to protect the face.

- Shell made of high temperature polyamide

- Does not use a leather ID badge (unlike American helmets).

- Lights can only be mounted to these helmets on the sides in the image to the right.

- These weigh around 3.0 lbs (1.4 kg)....0.5 lbs less than modern and 2 lbs less than than traditional helmets.

Bullard Wildland Helmet Hat
Bullard Wildland Helmet Hat

Wildland fire helmets

Wildland helmets look more like hard hats and have a fire resistant shell. Some have only a narrow brim in the front while others have a wider brim around the entire helmet.

- Shell is thermoplastic polymer or lightweight kevlar.

- Weigh around 2.2 lbs (1 kg).

Bullard Advent Helmet
Bullard Advent Helmet

Rescue and EMS helmets

These helmets do not have to be meet NFPA fire resistant requirements. These are lighter weight but impact resistant and have an inner protective shell.

- No leather ID badges are used here. ID stickers or reflective materials are worn on the side of the helmet.

- Polycarbonate or thermoplastic shell.

- Weigh around 1.5 lb (0.7 kg).

Cairns Defender Visor
Cairns Defender Visor

Eye and face protection

Fire helmets do very well to protect the skull but are insufficient to protect a firefighter's eyes, ears, etc. A protective firefighting hood is sometimes used to protect the neck, ears and face.

In addition, firefighters use external faceshields or goggles to protect the eyes. Some new flip shields including Bourkes and EZ Flips can be mounted to the underside of the helmet brim for eye/face protection.

Gallet helmets along with the Cairns Defender Visor have face protection integrated into the fire helmet.

Goggles (made by companies like ESS and Bouton) can be used in addition to (or in place of) visors and face shields.

What type of fire helmet do you use?

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The HUGE advantages of helmet lights

- Two free hands for multi-tasking

- Illumination follows your eyes

Why are free hands so important?

Columbus FD
Columbus FD

Two free hands allow firefighters to:

- use tools like chainsaws, shovels and axes.

- provide assistance in medical or rescue calls

Essentially, two free hands allow firefighters to multitask, be safer and perform their work more quickly.

Firefighters are constantly turning their heads and scanning the environment. Helmet lights provide firefighters with light in the area they are looking. Right angle lights are wonderful and an essential piece of gear as they are bright and provide distance vision.

Fire helmet lights are meant to be used in addition to (not instead of) right angle lights and light boxes.

Consideration factors when choosing a fire helmet light

There are many helmet lights available on the marketplace today. There is no one best light as each firefighter values things differently. When selecting a light, each firefighter needs to decide what is most important to them. Here are some consideration factors that I'll explain in more detail.

1) Side versus front mounted

2) Weight distribution

3) Brightness and beam angle

4) Battery type

Side mounted fire helmet lights

Streamlight mounted to side of helmet
Streamlight mounted to side of helmet

Side mounted lights are typically flashlights mounted to the side of the helmet or to a strap. In some cases, hardware is required to mount the holder onto the helmet. These are pretty bright. Some firefighters even use 2 of these lights...one over each ear.

Pros: focused light due to narrower beam angle; may also double as flashlight

Cons: can cause uneven weight distribution (if only one used); focal point may be off center

Front mounted fire helmet lights

FoxFury Command 20 Fire Headlamp
FoxFury Command 20 Fire Headlamp

Front mounted helmet lights are usually placed on fire helmets using a silicone or rubber strap. Helmet lights with straps are easy to remove and can be quickly transferred to another helmet (ex. removed from structural helmet to be placed on wildland helmet).

Pros: Lighting more centered and wider beam angles available (compared to side mounted)

Cons: covers bottom portion of ID shield, can cause uneven weight distribution (unless battery park is in rear)

FoxFury Command Series headlamp on structural helmet
FoxFury Command Series headlamp on structural helmet

Weight distribution on fire helmet

Fire helmets are generally balanced (even weight distribution) when worn on the head. Adding accessories to the fire helmet, from lights to wedges and other tools, can cause the helmet to tilt to the side, front or back.

Mounting one light to the side of the helmet or using a front mounted light that is one solid piece can cause such tilting.

Some helmet lights are built so that the weight is more evenly distributed (like the one above) from side to side and/or front to back. Evenly distributed weight on a helmet can be more comfortable to wear, especially for extended periods.

Brightness and beam angle

Firefighters will have different opinions concerning how much light they require in a helmet light. Some want as much as possible while others don't want very much light at all. Similarly, some firefighters want a light with a narrow focused beam while other want lights with a wider beam to provide more peripheral lighting.

A combination of focused, peripheral and distance lighting is required in structural firefighting. Such environments have more variables including smoke and debris.

In wildland environments, flood lighting tends to be take on added importance.

Choosing battery type

AA batteries are typically the most preferred by fire departments.

Advancements in lighting and battery technology have made it possible for more rechargeable models to be available.

It is important to select lights with battery run times that are sufficient for a firefighter working a shift. There are some really bright lights out there that will not last very long out in the field as the battery will drain too quickly.

Flashing Red Rear Safety LED
Flashing Red Rear Safety LED

Safety features in fire helmet lights

Some lights have variable light intensities or modes. This helps save battery life and provides the desired amount of light to complete a task.

Within the last decade, some fire helmet lights have incorporated rear colored LEDs (generally red or blue) to increase firefighter safety. This is especially helpful in larger scenes or identify firefighters in smoky conditions.

In addition, some lights are able to tilt up and down to aim light where needed.

Fire helmets are availbale in a cariety of colors
Fire helmets are availbale in a cariety of colors

Are fire helmets available in different colors?

Yes. The color of one's fire helmet typically denotes their rank. Departments will typically defer in what colors they use but in general:

Chief = white helmet

Captain / Lieutenant = red helmet

Rescue or EMS = blue helmet

Firefighter = black (or yellow) helmet

Fire helmet manufacturers

Arranged alphabetically. I apologize if there are any errors or omissions.

Fire Helmet Light (and Headlamp) Manufacturers

Arranged alphabetically. I apologize if there are any errors or omissions.

View "The Battalion" webisodes - See what Fire, Rescue and EMS is really like

Screenshot from a The Battalion The Series webisode
Screenshot from a The Battalion The Series webisode

There is an outstanding web program called "The Battalion" that we highly recommend you check out. Each webisode is around 20 minutes and shows the jobs that a firefighter (or given fire department) performs in one day. They advertise that it's "True Reality, Truly Unscripted" and you'll see why when you see a webisode. The Battalion works directly with fire departments around the US (as well as in Canada and Colombia) and shows us the Fire, Rescue, EMS and HazMat support that they provide on any given day.

One super cool part about the show is that they use helmet cams on certain calls, which gives us a glimpse into what fighting a fire is really like. It really shows how hard at times it can be to see as well as how dense smoke can be. The pic above is a screenshot showing a view from the helmet camera.

Info and new webisodes are available weekly at http://www.thebattalion.tv/

The making of a leather fire helmet

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    • beardedbrian lm profile image

      beardedbrian lm 6 years ago

      Fantastic lens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Great lens and interesting! Blessed by a Squidoo Angel-have a great day!