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Firefighter Gear: Then and Now

The original firefighter helmet was made of leather, with a long rear brim and side brims that curled up to prevent water from running down the firefighter’s neck and coat. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that aluminum helmets came into use. They had the same shape as the leather helmets but were much cheaper to make.

However, the aluminum helmets conducted both heat and electricity, forcing the more expensive leather to be used once again. Today’s helmets are designed to withstand impacts, penetration, heat, flames and electricity. They are made of high-tech plastics and composite materials.

Common Helmets:

Leatherhead 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.

The Brass Eagle The brass eagle which holds the top of the front piece to the leather helmet will often become damaged with wear – The eagle has no particular significance and serves no practical purpose. Its 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.

Merryweather Merryweather helmets were used by British fire brigades from the Victorian era. They were made of brass or nickel, later changed to plastic to make them lighter. Metal helmets are also conductive, which was a safety hazard as use of electricity became widespread, due to the risk of live wires falling from overhead.


Sources: FireLink Photos, iStock


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