Led by pioneers White Bear Lake and Eagan (MN), at least 10 Twin Cities fire departments are using new European-style helmets, reports the Minnesota Star Tribune.
“The American fire service is 200 years of progress unimpeded by change,” said Richfield Fire Chief Wayne Kewitsch. “Anything that changes that tradition is looked at skeptically by firefighters.”
In 2011, Eagan got its first Austrian-manufactured helmet and asked a young firefighter to try it out. Fire Chief Mike Scott was enthused about the increased safety the new helmets offered.
“I believe our traditional helmets are more of a showpiece, with the big eagles on them,” he said. “They’re really pretty, but there’s not as much head protection.”
Scott said the new helmets, which are standard in European fire departments, are suited to the changing duties of firefighters. Today they respond not only to building fires but to car accidents, car fires and rescue situations, where the traditional hat can be more obstacle than help.
“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.”
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.
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