What to Wear: The Evolution of Protective Clothing for Firefighters
Although today’s firefighter is protected from heat and falling debris with clothing made of modern materials, this was not always the case. For more than 100 years, firefighters donned nothing more than a rubber or canvas slicker, a wide-brimmed leather helmet and rubber boots. Often, gloves were not even a consideration. It’s no wonder their bodies had to withstand multiple scars and wounds.
Without adequate clothing to protect them, firefighters during this time period used distance as their primary method of protection. Unfortunately, this left little margin for error. When conditions changed rapidly, which they frequently do in the midst of a fire, their clothing did not provide much protection. Even as recently as the 1960s, firefighters wore clothing that could quickly burn or melt if the fire got too close.
The Space Age ushered in new materials and manufacturing processes that could be used to produce everything from coats, pants and gloves to protective footwear and helmets. By the 1970s, clothing for firefighters had advanced dramatically. And today, firefighters are wrapped in materials that provide an outer layer that neither liquid nor heat can permeate. Still, the added challenge comes with producing clothing that is not only safe but also allows the firefighter to move about with relative ease. To add to the challenge, a firefighter must be able to dress in less than 60 seconds. No small feat, for sure.