Reed Was Right

Bobby Halton

We have seen debates go back and forth in science, medicine, and our own industry. The examples are endless: smooth vs. fog, interior vs. exterior, compressions vs. airway, can’t push fire/can push fire. The bottom line is, our opinions and beliefs change as we learn more and knowledge evolves.

Ben Franklin in his later years wrote, “For having lived long I have experienced many incidences of being obliged, by better information of fuller consideration, to change opinions on important subjects, which I once thought right but found otherwise.” We may believe something strongly now, but it could change. In many things, there really are few “knowns.”

There is a notable example in American history: Preston Tucker was born in 1903 to humble beginnings in Detroit. As a young fellow, he became enamored with automobiles. He learned how to drive at age 11; he attended technical school to become a “wrench” and landed a job in the mailroom of the Cadillac company. To fulfill his obsession with driving cars fast and recklessly, he would become a police officer, which he would do two or three times in his life.

At age 20, he leased a gas station with his wife; she worked there during the day while he was on the line at Ford Motor Company. When they lost the gas station lease, he went back to being a cop. Shortly after, he got fired after he cut a hole in the dashboard of his patrol car to get heat off the engine during the cold winter days. He sold Studebakers; he sold Pierce Arrows; and then he ended up at the Indianapolis 500, where he could learn everything he could about high-performance engines.

He got connected with people who knew what they were doing and with people who had money. With the war coming, he even built a military concept vehicle called the Tucker combat car with the Tucker gun turret. The narrow-wheelbase armored combat car was nicknamed the “Tucker Tiger.”

Around 1943, he started the Tucker Auto Company. After 1943, he built an amazing car—the “Tucker 48,” known as the Tucker Torpedo. The car’s prototype had innovations way ahead of the others: rear engine direct-drive torque converters on each rear wheel, hydraulic values, fuel injection, disc brakes, a padded dash, self-sealing tubeless tires, an independent springless suspension, side-impact protection, a roll bar, a laminated windshield, and a center “cyclops” headlight that would turn when the car turned.

Unfortunately, in February 1949, the Securities and Exchange Commission began a grand jury investigation into Tucker Auto. Although Tucker was acquitted two years later, the company was bankrupt. The attorney who prosecuted him turned out to be a crook, and Tucker died of lung cancer five years later.

Around 1978, a captain in the Houston (TX) Fire Department was looking at fire behavior and bunker gear. He noticed that the only place we didn’t have bunker gear was our heads. He noticed troops getting burns around their face pieces and that, although it was rumored our ears were nature’s version of the “pop-up thermometer,” the captain, knowing they were mostly cartilage, thought otherwise.

The captain purchased a bunker coat and convinced his mom, a talented seamstress, to sew together a hood he designed from the bunker coat. After a few prototypes, the captain went to his crew. After comments such as “Are you nuts?” “That will never work,” “How can we feel the heat through that thing?” and a host of similar objections, even doubters started to see the benefits. Eventually, a gear company started making and selling the hoods.

Today his former organization has moved away from his hood toward adoption of the sock hood, which we all are familiar with and which we are looking closely at. We have concerns about fine particulates that are carcinogenic passing through the hoods. The barriers in our gear stop most of those particulates, and there are sock hoods with barriers. We have concerns that washing our hoods may not decontaminate them thoroughly, and early work indicates washing may result in cross-contamination and increased contamination.

The sock hood is a wonderful product, and we are grateful for it, but we have concerns about how we pull it down around our neck after a job while we are rehabbing and picking up. This may be exposing our necks to the contaminants still on the dirty hoods. The captain’s hood has a hook-and-loop fastener neck strap, which you can quick release.

Thermal protection is a bigger issue than at any other point in our history because of increased heat release rates from petrochemical products. The captain’s hoods have been called bunker gear for your head.

The choice of protection is always predicated on the most significant threat. When it serves other protections, all the better, but everything has cost trade-offs. Field of vision is one where the sock is a winner. If the captain’s hood gets contaminated, then replacing it is more expensive. Today, we have heard they are looking at a version II of the captain’s hood. Perhaps a removable outer shell may be in the design and maybe with today’s fabric and better field of vision.

The Tucker automobile paved the way for many safety components we have today, saving an untold number of lives. Other aspects of his work gave us automotive advances we still enjoy. The Reed hood, named after its creator and legendary Houston captain Cliff Reed, shares some comparisons. Captain Cliff Reed was not only an innovator but also was and remains today a fiercely passionate advocate for firefighter safety.

Folks failed to appreciate Preston Tucker and Tucker 48; we sure do now. We all suffer from advanced hindsight bias. Now that we know more, it is long past due to give Captain Reed and the Reed hood a tip of our hats.

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