Choosing Your Fire Helmet
When choosing your next fire helmet, there are a few key characteristics to take into consideration: weight, materials, style, and balance. Each of these characteristics are examined below.
Your fire helmet needs to provide you with the optimal level of comfort. Design expertise is a key element in the lightweight feel of fire helmets. Choosing a lightweight, durable helmet that offers optimal balance heightens the level of comfort the helmet provides to firefighters.
Weight alone does not significantly change between fire helmet manufacturers. In fact, there is often a weight difference of only one to two ounces. The design and engineering of the helmet is key to providing the ultimate in comfort.
Fire helmets are made from either thermoplastic or fiberglass materials, which have both been shown to protect firefighters in extreme heat conditions. Fiberglass helmets are made up of a mixture of thermoset resins and glass fiber. The thermoset resin is the “glue” that is needed to hold glass fibers together in a composite helmet shell. Thermoset resins are a family of plastics that do not melt, but chemically degrade at high temperatures. Thermoset resins by themselves have relatively little strength; the strength of a thermoset composite material comes primarily from the fibers of the glass or other materials that are bonded together by the resin.
The challenge in designing an effective fiberglass material is getting the right mix of a good thermoset resin and high content of glass. The glass fiber is heavier than the resin, so getting the right mix also creates the best potential for a lighter helmet shell. Most fire helmets today have a glass content of approximately 50%.
Fiberglass helmets have traditionally shown their best strength against chemical exposure. Today’s fiberglass helmets also protect well in high heat environments; however, over time and repeated exposures to extreme temperatures, the thermoset resin that holds the glass fibers together in fiberglass helmets begins to degrade with each exposure. High heat exposures can accelerate the degradation of fiberglass helmets.
Thermoplastic material exhibits a high-quality surface finish and has proven to be impact and resistant. While today’s advanced thermoplastics can perform at temperatures exceeding 500 degrees Fahrenheit (260 degrees Celsius), thermoplastics can be sensitive to some chemical solvents. Since thermoplastic helmets are made by a process of melting and re-cooling, they are designed to accept the type of re-heating that occurs when fighting fires.
There are a variety of fire helmet models on the market today, but three specific designs are the most popular among firefighters: the traditional American helmet; the streamlined contemporary helmet; and the jet-style helmet.
The traditional helmet, which was first embraced hundreds of years ago, is designed with ribs protruding from the dome, created by the joining of eight triangular sections, with a long brim in the back of the helmet to allow water to drip off and often adorned with a customized shield in the front to identify the firefighter. The contemporary helmet is often a lower profile and lighter weight design than the traditional, offering more streamlined and simple lines. This style helmet allows for the face, eyes and neck to be protected with visors, eye shields, and neck protectors. The jet-style helmet is becoming more popular on an international stage. This style looks more like a motorcycle helmet, wraps around the head with no extended brim and allows for greater integration of eye protection, communication devices, and breathing apparatus.
Did you know that you can make your helmet feel lighter… without actually removing any weight? It’s all about balance. A fire helmet that is engineered with superior balance reduces the top-heavy feel that many firefighters complain about when wearing their helmets. Some manufacturers offer brand of helmets allow firefighters to adjust the helmet to ride higher, lower, or somewhere in the middle on their head. Choose your perfect balance by simply adjusting the posts on your suspension. Learn how by downloading our Custom Fit Flyer.