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Homework answers / question archive / Traditions in the Fire Service: A Comparative Analysis of Leather and Composite Fire Helmets Jeffrey Menard Columbia Southern University   Traditions in the Fire Service: A Comparative Analysis of Leather and Composite Fire Helmets The American Firefighter is deeply rooted in American history

Traditions in the Fire Service: A Comparative Analysis of Leather and Composite Fire Helmets Jeffrey Menard Columbia Southern University   Traditions in the Fire Service: A Comparative Analysis of Leather and Composite Fire Helmets The American Firefighter is deeply rooted in American history

Sociology

Traditions in the Fire Service: A Comparative Analysis of Leather and Composite Fire Helmets

Jeffrey Menard

Columbia Southern University

 

Traditions in the Fire Service: A Comparative Analysis of Leather and Composite Fire Helmets

The American Firefighter is deeply rooted in American history. Benjamin Franklin is credited with starting the first formally organized volunteer fire department (The Union Fire Company) and the fire insurance company (Philadelphia Contributionship) in Philadelphia, but history shows Boston Massachusetts had the first publicly funded fire service in the late 1600’s. The early Boston Fire Department only protected its members where the Union Fire Company protected the entire community (Shreck, 2010). With the fire service being formed so many years ago, there are a number of traditions that still exist today. A firefighters’ helmet (also known as a hat) is one of the more debated traditions. Jacobus Turck is credited for the first leather fire hat in 1700’s; and the design looked like a top hat or stovepipe shape (Daskal & Rodah, 2009). Later, the design of the helmet was improved by Mathew Dubois, iron wire was sewed inside which helped hold its shape. In early 1800 Henry T. Gratacap, a well know luggage maker and New York City volunteer firefighter, took Jacobus fire hat and completely redesigned/reshaped it into the shape that is still used today (known as the New Yorker) (Shreck, 2010). Firefighters were given the nickname of leatherheads. Leather helmets were solely used until newer composite helmets were invented in the mid 1900’s. Before composite helmets came about some helmets were made of tin and were lighter, but it did not resist heat as well as leather.

Today, the biggest debate in the fire service is leather or composite helmets. Although, there have been a few tweaks to the shape of the fire hat and given different names such as the “Phoenix” or the “Bronx”, the “New Yorker” is still the most widely used fire hat. All helmets come in leather or composite and carry the same name to the shape like the “New Yorker”. While Leather and composite helmets offer the same protection, carry the same safety ratings by NFPA (National Fire Protection Agency) and have the same shape, the leather helmet is more expensive, requires a lot more maintenance and is heavier than the composite helmet. All volunteer and paid fire departments offer firefighting equipment or an allowance to buy your own gear, so leather over composite many times becomes tradition over value.

NFPA 1971, standard on protective ensembles for structural firefighting governs what safety features a fire helmet must meet. Any fire hat that is produced, must meet or exceed this NFPA standard, whether leather or composite. The Cairns 1010 composite helmet and the Cairns N6A leather helmet, both manufactured by MSA, are exactly the same when it comes to safety in the eyes of NFPA

NFPA 1851, standard on selection, care and maintenance of PPE (personal protection equipment) states all PPE can only be in service for 10 years, therefore both the leather and composite hats can only be in service for 10 years. Unlike the composite helmet, leather helmets require constant upkeep, yearly deep cleaning, manufacturer repairs and repainting when needed. Neglecting to maintain your leather hat can and will reduce the 10-year life expectancy. Not caring for your leather helmet will cause the leather to deteriorate over time and deem the hat unrepairable. Not cleaning your composite hat will not harm or lower the life expectancy. Although a dirty hat does carry cancer causing carcinogens and covers any cracks that may have formed in the composite. A composite hat wins if a firefighter is not going to take care of equipment, then again if a firefighter is not going to maintain personal equipment, the fire service is most likely not a good career choice anyway.

The final differences between leather over composite are cost and weight. A Cairns 1010 costs $275 and weighs about 55oz, whereas the Cairns N6A costs $725 and weighs around 70oz. A difference of 15oz may not seem like much, but at an extended emergency scene that is almost an extra pound to carry on a person’s head for possibly hours. Just over $400 more for the leather helmet over composite is a major difference for most, on a firefighter’s salary. Weight and cost are the biggest differences when considering leather over composite.

Although leather and composite helmets have the same functionality, shape and safety. The cost, care and weight are very different. Most firefighters that opt to wear a leather helmet do it for tradition. The department I work for provides us with a composite helmet and doesn’t allow leather helmets. The day my department allows leather helmets is the day I will buy a leather helmet. Tradition is one of the few things we have left from the early fire service, let’s keep our traditions.

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