Firefighters wear heavy layers of fire-resistant protective equipment called bunker gear or turnout gear. This outer gear features special heat-resistant material to protect the firefighter from a dangerous fire. They pair this PPE with nonflammable clothing such as organic cotton t-shirts, as well as practical footwear like steel-toed boots.
Besides their underclothes, coat, and pants, firefighters wear additional gear such as a helmet, a protective neck guard, and gloves. Depending on their job duties, firefights may also carry many tools such as a radio, an ax, an oxygen tank, or a flashlight.
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Bunker Gear/Turnout Gear
Firefighters wear thick, heavy coats and pants called either bunker gear or turnout gear as the outer layer when they respond to an alarm and head to a fire. The coat and pants combined together often weigh as much as 45 pounds!
The coat usually contains a flame-resistant material and has additional safety elements such as a neck flap and reflective stripes or patches for visibility. The coat often includes a patch embroidered with the firefighter’s last name for identification purposes, too. The pants have a long, loose fit for easily pulling over a base layer of clothing. A lot of the time a firefighter uses suspenders to make sure that the heavy pants stay in place.
Firefighters usually call this PPE either bunker gear or turnout gear because they keep it laid out in the bunker ready to turn out and get dressed when they get an emergency call.
You can read more about the type of protective fabric used in firefighter gear in this article from PBS.
Firefighters who specialize in fighting wildfires typically wear a special yellow coat. This is because scientists found that the yellow remains most easily visible through a thick layer of smoke. Firefighters wearing yellow can more easily spot each other in dangerous, smoky conditions out in the wilderness this way.
PBS explains more about wildland firefighter gear in this article.
All fighters wear a protective helmet when called to a fire. Modern firefighter helmets usually contain thermoplastic or fiberglass, because these materials can resist extreme heat. In some locations, firefighters wear helmets in different colors to indicate their level of experience. For example, many rookie fighters will wear a yellow helmet or a yellow jacket so their seniors can keep an eye on them.
You can read about the protective materials used to make firefighter helmets here.
Of course, firefighters need to protect their feet as well as their heads when on the job! Most firefighters wear special boots that contain a heat-resistant material such as Nomex. The boots also usually have steel toes to protect the firefighter from falling debris or other dangers.
FireRescue explains that firefighters often have to wear boots that meet specific OSHA requirements, too.
Firefighters have to consider safety protocols even in their station wear, or the casual clothes they wear when on duty but not called out to a fire. This is because the firefighter will quickly pull on turnout gear over the station wear when the station receives an alarm.
Because a firefighter wears his or her station wear beneath the protective turnout gear, all of their casual clothing worn at the station has to easily fit beneath the official gear and still feel comfortable. Station wear usually consists of a simple T-shirt and pants.
You can find out all about how firefighters pick their station wear in this article from Scioto County News.
Firefighters wear clothes made from either 100% natural fibers or specially treated flame-resistant synthetic fibers beneath their turnout gear. Synthetic fabrics like polyester and nylon can melt and cause bad burns when exposed to high temperatures. For this reason, firefighters have to pick their t-shirts and even underclothes with care!
You can find out all about the flammability of fabrics in this article from the United States Forest Service.
Like policemen and military personnel, many firefighters have a dress uniform reserved for special occasions. It often consists of a button shirt and dark trousers, along with special badges, pins, and buttons depending on the firefighter’s rank and duties.
Firefighters wear a dress uniform for celebratory events like a promotion ceremony or a parade. They also wear dress uniforms for somber occasions such as the funeral of a fellow firefighter. You can read about when firefighters wear a dress uniform in this article from the Firefighter Insider.
Many firefighters add a special garment called a flash hood over their coats and beneath their helmets. This item loosely wraps around the neck, which prevents flames and heat from sneaking in between the helmet and the collar of the coat as the firefighter bravely enters a burning building.
The New South Wales Fire and Rescue Department explain how a flash hood helps protect a firefighter here.
Firefighters wear gloves to protect their hands from heat during their dangerous work. These gloves usually contain multiple layers. First, the gloves have a tough outer shell to resist abrasion and provide a good gripping ability. Then they have both a heat-resistant and a moisture-resistant barrier in the middle. Finally, they usually have a more comfortable lining on the inside.
You can find out all about the type of material used in firefighter gloves in this article from the Department of Homeland Security.
Besides their already-heavy turnout gear consisting of PPE like a fire-resistant coat, pants, and boots, firefighters often have to carry a lot of additional equipment. This can include items like a flashlight to illuminate dark areas of a fire scene or a radio for communicating with team members on the scene of a fire. Sometimes firefighters will also carry an ax for breaking through burning walls.
Some firefighters also have to carry a large oxygen tank strapped to their backs so that they can breathe in the middle of a fire. The air tank may add another 11 pounds of weight to everything the firefighter has to carry! You can learn about why firefighters carry air tanks in this article from NASA.
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