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For centuries, firefighters have worn helmets to protect them from heat, cinders and falling objects. Although the shape of most of these helmets has changed little over the years, their composition has changed from the traditional leather to metals (including brass, nickel and aluminum) to composite helmets made of lightweight polymers and other plastics.
 Leather helmets
 "Leatherhead" helmet
The "leatherhead" is a term describing an old style leather helmet used by many firefighters in the US and Canada. Leatherhead is also slang for a firefighter who uses the leather helmet. The leather helmet is also an international symbol of firefighters from the earlier years of firefighting. Almost always, traditional leather helmets have a brass eagle adornment affixed to the top front of the helmet that secures a leather shield to the front of the helmet.
 Brass eagle and beaver
The brass eagle or beaver which holds the top of the front piece to North American leather helmets often become damaged with wear. The eagle's origins can be traced to around 1825 when an unknown sculptor created a commemorative figure for the grave of a volunteer firefighter. Firefighters were not wearing eagles prior to this, but it has been part of fire helmets ever since. The beaver ornament, adorned on many Canadian firefighter's helmets, is said to represent the relentless hard work, focused mission and undying dedication that North American firefighters are known for.
The ornament sticks up and out into the air, which causes it to catch its beak on window sashes, telephone wires and other obstacles. It frequently becomes dented, bent or knocked off. The ornament is frequently criticized and it is said that it would be cheaper and safer to do away with it.
Many fire departments have traditional helmet with more modern plastic and composite helmets that have no eagle or beaver device - Jokingly referred to as "salad bowls" and "slick tops" for their streamlined shape. However, many firefighters and fire departments still retain the traditional helmet (composite or leather) as a matter of tradition.
 Early respirators
 Tyndall's hood
In 1871, British physicist John Tyndall wrote about his new invention, a "fireman's respirator" featuring a valve chamber and a filter tube with cotton saturated with glycerin, lime and charcoal, to filter smoke particles and neutralize carbonic acid. This invention was featured in the July 1875 issue of Manufacturer and Builder.
 Neally's smoke-excluding mask
George Neally patented a "smoke-excluding mask" in 1877, which he marketed to fire departments. This invention featured a face mask with glass eyepieces and rubber tubes allowing respiration through a filter carried on the chest.
 Merriman's smoke mask
A Denver firefighter named Merriman invented an early hose mask, featured in the January 7, 1892 issue of Fireman's Herald. This respirator featured a tube like an elephant trunk, connecting to an air hose that ran parallel to the firefighter's water hose.
 Loeb respirator
Bernhard Loeb of Berlin patented a respirator (US patent #533854) in 1895 which featured a triple-chambered canister carried on the waist, containing liquid chemicals, granulated charcoal and wadding. This respirator was used by the Brooklyn Fire Department.
 Dräger smoke helmet
Invented in 1903 by Dräger & Gerling of Lübeck, Germany, the smoke helmet was a fully enclosed metal helmet with glass face mask, featuring two "breathing bags" covered by a leather flap worn over the chest. This respirator became so important to mine rescue operations that rescue workers became known as "draegermen".
 Metal helmets
 Merryweather helmet
Merryweather helmets were used by British fire brigades from the Victorian era until well into the 20th century. Modelled after helmets worn by cuirassiers of the French Army, the helmets were made of brass or nickel. Metal helmets are conductive, which was a safety hazard as use of electricity became widespread, due to the risk of live wires falling from overhead. As a result they were slowly replaced by the modern structural fire helmets, similar to the ones used in North American jurisdictions.
 Aluminum helmets
 German DIN fire helmet
In Germany most of the fire brigades still use the old German DIN fire helmet. This helmet is designed according to the old German standard DIN 14940 dd. approx. 1972. The helmet is made of aluminium alloy, it is painted with a yellow-green fluorescent colour and provided with a white reflecting stripe and a black leather neck protection. Most fire brigades use the helmet with an easily mountable visor. The design of the helmet is based on the German Stahlhelm. The German DIN fire helmet does not correspond to the presently valid European EN 443 standard for fire helmets as it is conductive. German fire brigades are allowed to use the existing aluminium DIN fire helmets but not to obtain new ones for fire services. Some manufacturers produce new fire helmets made of glass fibre reinforced plastic, having exactly the look of the old German DIN fire helmet and yet corresponding to the European EN 443 standard.
 Modern composite helmets
 F1 helmet
The F1 helmet is a modern firefighter's helmet made in France by Gallet, a subsidiary of MSA, who also produce the SPECTRA military helmet. In service since 1985, the F1 helmet provides protection against impact, fires and electricity, fulfilling the EN 443 European standard.
The F1 was an answer to a requirement of the Paris Fire Brigade for a replacement of the previous helmet (Casque modele 1933 was similar to the Merryweather) which dated back to 1933; these provided insufficient protection for the face and back of the head, and were not thermally insulated. The F1 helmet is handmade, using synthetic materials often covered with galvanised nickel. It can include masks, communication systems and other accessories.
The F1 has been used by the Paris Fire Brigade since August 1985, and has been widely adopted by all of the French fire services, gaining export success in over 85 countries, including fire departments in Quebec, the United Kingdom, Canada and Japan (notably in Tokyo).
 Modern structural helmet
Modern structural helmets (that is, intended especially for structure fires) are made of either thermoplastic or composite material. The brim at the rear of the helmet is longer than the front and a face shield(s) is usually attached to the front. These are worn in the United States and Canada, as well as United Kingdom, Australia and in parts of Asia (notably Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and Guangzhou). Newer "Metro" helmets (the name given by several leading helmet manufacturers) are also much lighter than both leather and composite traditional helmets.
 Helmet colours
In some countries, most notably the United States and the Commonwealth Realms, the colour of a firefighter's helmet often denotes the wearer's rank or position. In Britain, most firefighters wear yellow helmets, but watch managers (sub officers) and above wear white helmets; rank is further indicated by black stripes around the helmets. In Canada regular firefighters wear yellow or black with captains with red and senior command offices in white. Likewise in the United States, red helmets denote company officers, while white helmets denote chief officers. However the specific meaning of a helmet's color or style varies from region to region and department to department. One noteworthy example is the Los Angeles Fire Department's use of the old MSA "Topgard" helmets depicted in the 1970s television series Emergency!. Firefighters used all black with colored company numbers on the shield below the "L.A. County" in blue on the top half. Engine and squad companies had white numbers, with paramedics switching to green and a two color "paramedic" decal later affixed to either side of the helmet, and truck companies had red numbers. Captains' helmets were black with a white stripe down the center ridge of the helmet and the number portion of the shield in white. These helmets have since been discontinued. Another example is the San Francisco Fire Department. Engine companies' helmets are typically all black and truck companies' are black with alternating red and white quarters on the dome of the helmet.
The South Australian Country Fire Service, like many Australian fire services, have specific colours for specific roles. White helmets are for Firefighters (with a red stripe for Senior Firefighters). Lieutenants have yellow helmets, Captains have yellow with a red stripe, Deputy Group Officers and above have red helmets, while paid staff have a blue stripe on their helmet.
 See also
- History of the Leather Helmet
- Taggart, Ian. "The Invention of the Gas Mask". Retrieved 2013-04-23.
- "draegerman". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 2013-04-23.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Firefighter's helmets|
- San Francisco Fire Museum page with pictures
- gallet.fr F1 helmet Manufacturer's web site
- Killorglin Fire & Rescue Killorglin Fire & Rescue site includes a breakdown of the parts of the Gallet helmet
- Der Feuerwehrhelm A helmet collection: See fire helmets of the past an the future, from Germany and the whole world.
- Firehelmetcollection A worldwide fire helmets collection from Italy.