Texas joins other progressive US fire services and replaces traditional US helmets for more European style helmets
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WEBSTER, Texas (Houston Chronicle) - One of the most iconic symbols of American firefighting has been the traditional helmet with its shield and wide brim. The traditional helmets have stood their ground for decades in most parts of the US, despite strong evidence from abroad that the old style of helmet is outdated and possibly even dangerous.
The city of Webster have now purchased new helmets that Fire Chief Patrick Shipp says are safer and weigh less.They also look different: to a US firefighters perhaps like a cross between a motorcycle helmet and what an astronaut might wear - but to a European, perhaps more like what a modern helmet should look like.
The new helmets, which began to be used on March 27, have spurred some questionable looks and raised eyebrows. While other departments in the United States have already made the switch, the city of Webster is the first department in Texas to do so, according to the city’s Facebook page.
“One of the best things about fire departments is tradition, but that can also be a downfall,” Shipp said.
“The fire service in general has had about 100 years of advancement impeded by tradition."
“What we had was the traditional style (US) helmet that’s been around since like 1780,” he said. “It hasn’t really changed, and we know there are better helmets; so we decided to look around to see what better and safer products were out there that we might be able to utilize.”
The department found ideas from the United Kingdom.
“We started looking at our brothers and sisters across the pond in England, who, by the way, have been fighting fires way longer than us, and they made the switch (to the new style helmet) maybe 25 to 30 years ago,” Shipp said.
“They put a lot of research into this newer style; so we leaned on that research and found out that this newer style is safer, lighter is able to integrate new and higher (technology) and basically has more options.”
The options with the old-style helmet were limited — a firefighter can have a shield, which is either down when it is in use or on top of the helmet when it isn’t, or goggles, which, likewise, are either on when they’re in use or on top of the helmet when they’re not. This, said Shipp, can pose potential issues during a fire.
“You’re crawling around in the dark with goggles or a shield on top of your helmet, and that creates an entanglement hazard,” he said. “With the new helmets, there are two different shields for when you need them — one that just comes down and covers your eyes and a larger shield that comes down and covers your whole face. If you don’t need them, they integrate back inside the helmet, which takes away that snagging hazard.”
While all helmets vary somewhat in weight, traditional ones often weigh more than 4 pounds. The new helmets weigh 3.3 pounds.
“One of the issues firemen have had historically is neck problem from the old-style helmets,” Shipp said. “They’re heavy. They put a huge strain on your neck, so if you’re out fighting a fire for eight hours with this big heavy helmet on, it can really put a strain on you.
“These new helmets can not only potentially extend the amount of time you fight a fire, but they could potentially extend your career.”
Cover Photo: Webster firefighters Jason Crockom, Jeremy Falcone and Shane Martin strap on their new helmets. (Photo by Kirk Sides)