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“I saw firefighters going into a car after an accident and taking their helmets off and laying them on top of the car,” Scott said. “I want people with their hat on in those situations.”
Firefighters are more likely to get through holes in rescue situations without having their helmet get caught, he said. Wires often fall from ceilings during fires, and the new hat doesn’t have projections like the eagle that can snag on debris.
Scott dismissed concern that water will trickle down firefighters’ necks with the bill-less helmet. These days, he said, firefighter’s coats are custom-fitted, and if coats are worn correctly, the fire-retardant shield that hangs from the back of the helmet deflects water.
“There’s a proper place for tradition, but safety equipment is not it,” Scott said. “This is a multipurpose helmet for just about every type of call we go to.”
In Edina, Scheerer made the new helmets optional for firefighters.
“I was hoping for one or two people to try these helmets so we could get buy-in, but 30 of 45 firefighters opted for these,” he said. “So far, the reports are very good. There’s better thermal protection, better hearing protection and better eye protection.”
Testing and waiting
In Eden Prairie, a few firefighters are testing the new helmets. Assistant Chief Steve Koering said that those users like the comfort but that some complain they can’t hear as well. He said safety and performance as well as cost will determine whether the department buys more.
Richfield, too, is waiting. Cost is a consideration in a department that has eschewed decorative touches like eagles on helmets.
“If you are going to be on the leading edge of technology, you better be sure it is working and the cost is giving you a return on investment in both personal and firefighter safety,” Chief Kewitsch said.
The primary supplier of the Euro-style helmets to Minnesota departments is Wisconsin-based Jefferson Fire and Safety. President Pete Jefferson said he recently got a call asking to see one of the helmets from the most tradition-bound department in the country — the New York City Fire Department.
“I believe that, in time, this will be the helmet design,” he said. “Would the military wear helmets from World War I? ... It’s just not very smart.”
For Porthan, the factors are comfort, fit, stability and safety. His old helmet was knocked askew more than once when it caught on something. If he wants tradition, he said, he will admire the 19th-century leather fire helmet he has at home.
“You have to be safe,” he said.
And, he added, the new helmet will stand him in good stead “just in case I get called to go to space.”
Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380