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.
Smokey Bear’s “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires” campaign is the longest-running public service campaign in U.S. history. The stern, but approachable, bear wearing a ranger hat, jeans and boots has taught generations of Americans about fire safety and prevention over the years. But many people don’t know that there’s a real bear behind this furry campaign.
It all started in New Mexico in 1950. Firefighters were battling a blaze in the Lincoln National Forest when they noticed a bear cub wandering close to the fire with no sign of its mother nearby. As the fire spread, the bear cub took refuge in a tree. Once the 17,000-acre fire was under control, firefighters rescued the lone bear who had incurred some burns from the charred tree. The cub was flown to Sante Fe for veterinary aid, and the endearing story of the cub soon spread throughout the country. Once the cub recovered, it was sent to the National Zoo in Washington D.C. where it became known as Smokey Bear.
In 2010 alone, more than 4 million acres of land burned in the United States, a testament to the face that Smokey’s legacy still has an important role to play now—and in the years to come.
If you could point to one item of clothing that clearly distinguishes the firefighter, it would undoubtedly be the helmet.
What you see most firefighters wearing today, however, is a blend of progress and tradition. The classic shape dates back to the early 1900s, a time when helmets were made from leather and metal. The wide brim was designed to protect the firefighter from falling debris, water and burning embers. The style took hold, and firefighters everywhere adopted it as their own.
The 20th Century brought with it the invention of new materials, such as aluminum, fiberglass and a wide variety of plastics that could be used to improve the durability of the firefighter helmet. But although new designs were introduced, firefighters resisted the new styles, and they continued to wear the traditional leather head coverings. Helmet manufacturers solved the problem by making helmets using new materials and technologies, but with the traditional shape and decorative features. That included an outer leather covering. The most noticeable improvements are found on the interior headliner and suspension system.
Today’s firefighter helmets are a blend of the old and the new. They feature the traditional style with a leather look that is crafted using Space Age materials. The materials are OSHA approved, but the design is based on the traditional leather fire helmet. It’s interesting to note that many fire departments tried significantly more modern-looking styles, but most of them returned to the traditional look.
Helmets are special to every firefighter. Check out our helmets!
Each year, we host salespeople from our distributors to educate them on all the Fire-Dex gear and processes. Last week, at our Spring 2011 Fire-Dex University, we hosted 30 sales people from Florida to Ontario and Utah to New Jersey. The group toured our manufacturing center in Medina, Ohio, took training sessions taught by the one and only Fire-Dex sales team, and enjoyed networking with each other and the Fire-Dex family.
As you can see, we had a great time and look forward to our next university in September 2011.
There are more than 200 fire museums in the U.S. and Canada.
Firefighting has a rich historical background that is documented in the numerous firefighting museums located throughout this country and Canada. Years ago, the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) recognized the need to link these institutions, which vary greatly in their makeup, primarily as a method for exchanging ideas. In 1989, the IAFC sponsored a fire museum seminar which took place during the Fire-Rescue International Conference. Representatives from nine fire museums attended, and they decided to make the seminar an annual event. Still, many of the museums wanted even more interaction, something they could rely on throughout the year. They formed a committee to research the possibility of developing an organization of fire museums, and in 1995, the Fire Museum Network was established.
Today the Fire Museum Network is a non-profit organization that allows for networking among the various fire museums, while also promoting the interests of collecting, preserving and interpreting the artifacts, history and traditions of the fire service. It is run by a volunteer board of directors. In addition to the annual Fire Museum Seminar, the organization maintains a comprehensive Web site with a directory of fire museums that belong to the network. This information can be accessed at www.firemuseumnetwork.org.