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From the Neck Up
Full disclosure: I am not a big fan of how most of
the North American fire and emergency services
provide personal protection from the neck up.
Specifically, this includes protection of the
head during nonfire activities—which is the
bulk of our responses. Eye and face protection
is extremely void of any defined or standard
design application for nonstructural responses. This month’s column is intended to give
you and the collective fire and emergency services something to think about.
To underscore this disclosure, a national
survey ( 6,655 respondents) conducted earli-
er this year revealed that 61 percent of fire-
fighters use eye and face protection that is
not provided with their helmet. Of those 61
percent, safety glasses were used by 83 per-
cent of those respondents. There is mini-
mal use of face shields and/or goggles that
come with helmets. How can I say that?
During FDIC International, I paid particular
attention to the videos of the H.O. T. train-
ing evolutions that occurred on the days
before the general sessions. And, I studied
the hundreds of photos that lined the walls
Center and the Lucas Oil Stadium. With
several hundred examples, I found only one
occurrence of helmet-provided eye protec-
tion being deployed. Almost without fail,
firefighters had chosen to disregard the face
shields, flip-downs, and goggles that come
with helmets. In fact, a significant number
of firefighters were wearing helmets with-
out any eye/face protection. What were they
using? Safety glasses. Safety glasses provide
far superior protection over the ineffective
protection provided with helmet-supplied
face and eye protection. They are form fit-
ting, may be sunglasses, and may have
corrective lenses. NOTE: For structural fire-
fighting, the self-contained breathing appa-
ratus face piece, combined with a hood,
provides excellent eye and face protection.
Are there better alternatives? Perhaps. Many
fire departments have already adopted a pol-
icy of issuing two sets of turnout gear to its
members. Other departments are aggressive-
ly seeking funding to do likewise. Typically,
the second set consists of a turnout coat,
turnout pants, a hood, and maybe a pair of
gloves. Rarely is a second set of boots or a hel-
met issued. Since this topic is titled “From the
Neck Up,” boots will not be discussed.
However, there might be a slightly different approach to issuing a second helmet.
That approach is to offer only one structural
helmet but then offer another multipurpose
helmet. But first, why issue only one structural helmet? Because the need for a structural helmet for actual fire suppression is
not nearly as high as the need for head, face,
and eye protection for nonactive firefighting activities. One structural helmet should
suffice if the helmet has a removable head
band that could be easily cleaned or if each
member were offered a second headband.
Cleaning a helmet outershell is not that
complicated and typically does not require
any special equipment.
A Multipurpose Helmet
The thought of a multipurpose helmet
occurred to me when I had a chance to participate in the Scottish Fire and Rescue
Services Symposium in Glasgow this past
May. The sponsors of the Symposium were
allotted tabletop displays. One of the tables
displayed a helmet that was designed for
urban search and rescue (USAR), paramedic, and water rescue. The only nonstructural application it did not cover was wildland
firefighting. Perhaps it could be redesigned
or modified for wildland.
The uniqueness of this helmet was its
modular design with multiple options. For
example, eye protection similar to European
designed flip-down eyeshields could be
attached. Or, the user might opt to have a
pair of good-quality safety glasses available. The helmet had optional attachment
points for goggles. It had a quick-attach
polycarbonate face shield that provides far
more face coverage than the face shields
commonly used in North America today.
In addition, the same attachment points
could be used to attach a full-face mesh
screen like the type professional chain-
saw and other equipment operators, who
are susceptible to small, fast-flying debris.
There was a quick attachment point for a
flashlight to allow hands-free operation. All
the options just described are quick-attach,
quick-detach accessories that allow the hel-
met to be customized for the application.
A couple of other unique features of the
helmet were notable. The ridge of the helmet
had something like a shutter system that
could be opened and closed to allow for ventilation. This was remarkable to me because
the body releases heat faster through the top
of the head than at any other place. Another
option is a series of holes, approximately ½
inch in diameter, placed appropriately in the
helmet shell to allow water to pass through.
While I don’t claim to be an expert about
underwater rescue or swift water rescue,
the ability to allow water to pass through
the helmet while it is snugly attached to the
wearer seems like a no-brainer.
In my mind, it is not realistic to think
that a separate piece of head protection is
needed for each of the following applications: structural fire, wildland fire, USAR,
high-angle, swift water, underwater, and
emergency medical service. Why not just
two helmets—one for structural firefighting
and one for everything else? This would also
go a long way in minimizing contamination
associated with using the dirty structural firefighting helmet being used for everything. Something to think about.
ROBERT TUT TEROW retired as safety
coordinator for the Charlotte (NC) Fire Department
and is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency
Equipment editorial advisory board. His 34-year
career included 10 as a volunteer. He has been very
active in the National Fire Protection Association
through service on the Fire Service Section
Executive Board and technical committees involved
with safety, apparatus, and personal protective
equipment. He is a founding member and president
of the Fire Industry Education Resource Organization