One of the definitions of “turnout” in the American Heritage Dictionary states: “An outfit or array of equipment, especially that worn by a firefighter.”
Firefighter turnout gear (also known as bunker gear) represents the personal protective equipment (PPE) used by firefighters. At a minimum, the term can refer to the combination of trousers, boots and jacket. However, it can also refer to the entire combination of protective clothing and gear.
A more complete complement of modern turnout gear includes a jacket and pants that are manufactured with triple-layer protection. It would also include a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), PASS (personal alert safety system) devices, as well as modern communications equipment, which makes it possible for firefighters to enter burning buildings.
The name “bunker gear” was derived from when pants and boots were kept by the firefighter’s bunk at the fire station to be immediately ready for use. Modern firefighter gear has since moved out of the sleeping areas and into the engine room.
Early in the history of firefighting, a firefighter’s outer clothing was worn more for warmth and dryness than for protection from fire. All modern firefighter turnout gear must adhere to specific National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) guidelines in order to be certified for use by firefighters.
The early use of long trench coats, made of leather or canvas and later made of rubber, was the forerunner of modern turnout jackets. Back then firefighter coats had felt or wool liners to provide warmth in the winter. These felt and wool liners later evolved into the thermal protection liners found in today’s modern coats.
Earlier rubber coats were much longer than today’s modern turnout jackets, reaching down to a firefighter’s mid-thigh and were worn with long rubber boots called “three-quarter boots” which came above the firefighter’s knees. However, this combination of boot and coat left a gap of protection around the upper legs.
Since then, the modern combination of a jacket, pants with suspenders, and shorter rubber or leather boots have become common, although some departments still wear the earlier traditional style of gear.
Modern turnout jackets and pants are made of fire-resistant fabrics and include oversized pockets to carry tools and equipment. The jackets also feature reflective safety stripes to help firefighters remain visible to each other.
Firefighter’s turnout trousers (as well as the jackets) are made of different layers of fire-resistant materials to provide protection from extreme heat. The pants, when not in use, are usually stored open around the boots for immediate access when needed. In this way, a firefighter may just step into each boot and pull the pants up quickly.
Turnout pants often include an elastic waist and belt to secure the fit for different waist sizes.
The knees of turnout trousers may have an additional layer of thermal and moisture protection as well as articulating knees reinforcement for unrestricted crawling.
Few professions demand such rugged and specifically manufactured footwear as firefighters, since they protect firefighters’ feet, ankles, and lower legs from many hazards.
- Boots should be resistant to liquid penetration for at least one hour.
- They must also be puncture-resistant, to avoid cutting or damaging the boots when stepping on sharp objects.
- The boots must also be resistant to electricity and pass an electrical insulation test.
- The toes must also pass an impact and compression resistance test, which is usually satisfied by a toe insert made of steel or some high-strength, lightweight composite material.
- Firefighter boots must be resistant to bending and flex cracking.
- Additionally, firefighter boots are tested to ensure the temperature of the upper lining does not reach 111 degrees in ten minutes or less.
Firefighters wear thick, leather gloves to protect their hands from burns, cuts and scratches. There are many types of turnout gloves and they can generally be included in one of these three categories:
- structural firefighting
- wildland firefighting
- rescue or extrication
The gloves are also designed and manufactured to protect firefighters from chemicals, glass, metal and other sharp objects.
In the early 1800s, felt caps were worn, but were more for decoration than service since this early headgear did not provide any protection against flame or head injury. At least it did keep water off the firefighter’s face.
Helmets protect a firefighter’s head from fire, falling debris, scalding water and extreme temperatures. Firefighter helmets have a chin strap to keep it in place, a visor on the front to protect the firefighter’s eyes and flaps to protect their ears.
SELF-CONTAINED BREATHING APPARATUS
Out of everything that firefighters wear, the Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) provides the highest level of protection. SCBA delivers air to the firefighter through a full face mask and is worn to protect against smoke inhalation, toxic fumes, and superheated gases.
SCBA typically has three main components all connected together and mounted to a carrying frame.
- high-pressure tank
- pressure regulator, and
- inhalation connection (mouthpiece, mouth mask or face mask),
Firefighters are able to gain deeper access into burning structures to perform rescue functions, locate and suppress the fire and prevent further property damage.
PERSONAL ALERT SAFETY SYSTEM (PASS)
A Personal Alert Safety System (PASS) is commonly worn independently or as a part of the SCBA to alert others when a firefighter stops moving, which can assist another firefighter or rapid intervention team (RIT), in locating the firefighter in distress.
Firefighter turnout gear is critically important to help firefighters get their jobs done safely and efficiently. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) maintains standards that must be met to ensure a minimum level of protection and defense. However, such standards are not a substitute for proper training, physical conditioning, and teamwork experience.