Whether you use the term bunker gear, PPE or turnout gear a lot of aspiring firefighters are left wondering what is firefighter turnout gear? It’s a good question because it is arguably the most important piece(s) of equipment you will have.
As a firefighter, you need all the protection you can get, and your turnout gear plays a vital role in protecting you against all the dangers of fire, smoke, cancer causing agents and other harmful materials.
Turnout gear has been around for the past hundred years or so.
Of course, a lot of improvements have taken place, and there is currently a broad range of full turnout gear in the United States and across the globe. But, what are different pieces fire protective equipment that make up a firefighter’s turnout gear?
So, what is firefighter turnout gear made of?
Today’s turnout gear is made of fire-resistant fabrics that mainly consist of Nomex and Kevlar. Generally, turnout gear may constitute a combination of hood, gloves, suspenders, trousers, boots, helmet and jacket.
Modern sets of gear typically use the jacket/trouser/helmet combination. Nomex fiber typically carbonizes and thickens when subjected to intense heat.
This helps to increase the protective barrier between the firefighter and the source of heat, helping to minimize burn injuries.
Nomex is also flame-resistant, flexible and tough. On the other hand, Kevlar is extremely strong, thermally protective, comfortable and highly lightweight.
When these two materials are used together, the result is superb thermal protection, durability, and unmatched strength.
It is imperative to note that the United States follows the NFPA 1975, which offers standard guidelines on work uniforms for firefighters.
Following this regulation, all turnout gear should feature three components including, an outer cover or shell, a moisture barrier as well as a thermal barrier.
Between these three layers there exist pockets of air usually referred to as dead zones. Together with the three layers of protection, the dead zones help to further insulate the firefighter from the extreme dangers of fire.
You’ll always find turnout pants outfitted with leather cuffs and reinforced knees. As we previously mentioned, the materials used for the three layers in firefighter suits may vary but will usually include the Kevlar/Nomex combination of material.
Previously, the fire helmet’s primary function was to shed water.
However, thanks to the advancements in technology, today’s fire helmets are specifically designed to offer protection to the fireman’s head against the falling debris.
The secondary job of the helmet is to offer protection against heat. Generally, it offers a hard shell, heat, electrical and steam burn protection and equally shields the eye from the various elements of fire and debris.
It should be noted that helmets are made from various types of materials including plastic and carbon fiber for a comfortable and lightweight design, non-conductive materials to offer protection against electrical currents and a Kevlar layer for protection and strength.
The helmet designs usually vary slightly by manufacturer. You’ll find that some helmets feature a faceguard to protect you from dust, heat, debris, and water, especially when you are working on an extraction call.
It’s important to note that when helmets are not able to offer built-in protection for firefighter’s neck, ears as well as part of your face, firefighters also use firefighting protective hood. These flash hoods are usually made from Nomex Knit fabric.
These are important gear and will protect you from heat and steam burns.
The latest technology has made them relatively lighter and certain fire pants feature a built-in harness system that helps to eliminate the need for extra hardware.
They feature uniquely reinforced knees and form inserts to help you crawl freely without the fear of injury and burns.
Other notable features that help make this type of protective equipment more effective and comfortable include ripcord suspenders, gusseted cargo pockets, zippered pant legs and perhaps stretch waistbands.
These are equally essential protective gear and are usually made of leather or rubber with a steel toe insert.
Firefighter boots are intended to protect your feet against puncture wounds, fire and water damages. They are mostly made of leather, which is a fire-resistant material. The boots also feature removable washable foot beds, reflective material to enhance visibility.
We wrote a review on the best station boots for firefighters which can be found by clicking the link.
This is the largest and arguably the most important item in your safety wardrobe as a fireman.
Extra-large jackets enable firemen to carry equipment and tools, whereas the reflective safety stripes on these jackets ensure that firemen remain visible to each other even when performing their duties.
Firefighter turnout jackets usually are sewn with unique items to make them suitable for the job.
For instance, they feature special wrist guards to help protect your exposed skin between the edge of the glove and the sleeve. They are designed to prevent wrist burns, while at the same time remaining flexible and preventing bunching.
Also, the collars feature a special stitching technique to ensure that the collar remains up at all times to protect your throat and the back of the neck against potential dangers.
The back and chest parts of the jacket are fitted with a special insulation to help protect you from burns. Firefighter jackets usually are made from Kevlar and Nomex materials.
As a firefighter, gloves will be an important part of your turnout gear. This is because you will be constantly using your hands to rescue people out of fires, move and lift items that have caught fire or are smoldering.
What’s more, the chances of coming into contact with potentially harmful substances are also higher and this is why you must protect your hands.
As a firefighter, you will always have to respond to other emergencies other than fire incidences. Other emergencies that you may have to contend with include car accidents, hazardous material spills, riots, and perhaps marine accidents and many more.
This means that the type of gloves you’ll need will likely depend upon the emergency at hand.
Additional fire safety gear you may need could include items such as goggles, backpacks, masks and oxygen tanks, hazmat suits and flashlights.
A brief history of firefighter turnout gear
As I’m sure you already know firefighters are professionals who risk their own lives to protect citizens and property from fire.
Fires are known to destroy billions of dollars’ worth of private and public property every year. This obviously implies that firefighting, as a profession, is an incredibly dangerous occupation.
In addition to combating actual fires, firemen must also contend with water, smoke, hot embers, collapsing floors and falling objects.
Firefighters perform their tasks under stressful time constraints, considering that they only have a few minutes or perhaps seconds to safely evacuate occupants out of burning buildings.
Historically, firemen didn’t have the same level of fire gear used today. For this reason, most fires used to be fought only from the outside of structures, which were rarely ever entered.
The main purpose of these old firefighter protective equipment was to provide warmth and dryness as opposed to offering protection against fire and its components.
During the nineteenth century, felt caps were put on and were more of a decorative purpose than for protection. This type of fire gear never offered any form of protection against heat even though it did prevent water from affecting the firemen’s faces.
Over the years, the overall design, as well as the functionality of turnout gear for firefighters, has undergone a lot of positive transformations, and we now have highly effective equipment that not only offer the much-needed comfort during tough fire rescue operations, but have equally made it very feasible to enter a burning building.