Every tool firefighters bring to the scene of a fire is designed to withstand extreme heat, harsh chemicals, and dangerous conditions. This is true even of the clothes they wear. No material is completely fireproof, but firefighters’ clothes are designed to provide a fire-resistant shield that protects them against extremely high temperatures for a long period of time.
Firefighters’ clothes are typically made of a combination of Nomex—a material that provides extreme heat and fire protection, actually carbonizing in the presence of heat and creating a thick barrier that protects the skin—and Kevlar, a material that adds flexibility and breathability to allow firefighters to perform strenuous work even in difficult conditions. Here’s an overview of the gear firefighters wear when they respond to a call.
Fire kit. Also referred to as “turnout gear” or “bunker gear,” this refers to firefighters’ outer protective gear, which is highly fire resistant clothing. The term can be used to mean trousers, boots and jacket, or the entire system of protective clothing and equipment. According to tradition, the trousers and boots are traditionally stored by the firefighter’s bunk at the fire station for quick access. The trousers are typically stored crumpled around the boots so firefighters can step quickly into the boots and pull the trousers up.
Most fire brigades assign firefighters a jacket and trousers as part of their fire kit. This combination allows firefighters to take the jacket off if needed to cool off. Ordinarily, the fire kit’s job is to provide insulation from outside air—so they’re very hot.
Some fire brigades, however, assign a full-body suit that covers both upper and lower body. While this can’t be removed in situations where full-body protection isn’t needed, it also provides better protection from hot gasses, since there’s no gap between the top and bottom garments.
Boots. Firefighters use boots made of rubber or leather. They’re designed for extra toughness, fitted with safety toes and a midsole plate assuring puncture-resistance in case the firefighter steps on a nail or other sharp object. The rubber or leather is treated to be extremely fire resistant.
Helmets. A firefighter’s helmet is designed to protect the firefighter’s head from falling debris, as well as extreme heat. The helmet is made with a hard shell made to provide protection against heat, steam, electrical shocks and other hazards. Some come equipped with built-in goggles or visors to protect the eyes and face.
Protective hoods. Helmets are designed for heat and hazard protection, but they don’t cover the ears, neck, and a significant part of the face. When full-body protection is needed, firefighters wear a hood that completely covers the areas not protected by the helmet. These are made from Nomex knit fabric—the same material that provides heat and fire protection on a firefighter’s fire kit and other fire resistant clothing.
The fire resistant clothing firefighters wear is designed to perform miracles. It allows firefighters to walk into burning buildings, rescue victims and extinguish fires without risk of serious injury or death. It can be very hot and heavy to wear, but the protection is worth it.