Turnout gear, also referred to as bunker gear, is the protective clothing firefighters wear. These include coats, pants, helmets, gloves, and footwear. This gear must have three components: an outer shell, a moisture barrier, and a thermal barrier. Pockets of air between these layers add to the protection from the extreme environments of fires. The materials for these items often use a Nomex(a flame resistant material)/Kevlar combination.
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The pants often have suspenders attached. These are typically of a heavy duty construction to stand up against heavy weights and rigorous activity. When removed, the pants are often left around the boots, with the suspenders to the OUTSIDE! Very important, because otherwise they would be between your legs when you step into your boots. This makes it quicker to gear up.
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The coat has oversized pockets in order to carry various tools and equipment and reflective stripes line the coat. These usually have velcro or zippers to quickly don the coat. There’s also a flap that covers the closure area, adding extra protection from fire and heat. They also have wristlets made of Nomex at the end of sleeves to prevent burns between the end of the sleeve and the gloves.
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Boots are often made of rubber or leather with steel toe inserts. The boots are worn inside the pants to offer another layer of protection. They also have a puncture resistant midsole plate as they will come in contact with all sorts of surfaces in emergency situation.
Often a hood is worn under the helmet. This is also made of Nomex. This is for when a helmet does not provide built-in protection around ears and neck. The hood is tucked into the collar, then the SCBA mask is donned, then the hood is pulled up over the head to the seal of the mask to cover any exposed skin.
Originally the fire helmet was meant to shed water. Today, it’s purpose is more to protect the firefighter from falling debris or other injuries to the head. A secondary consideration is protection from heat and burns to the head. The hard shell protects from electrical, heat, and steam burns. There are four basic components to a helmet: the outer shell, impact ring, helmet liner, and chin strap. The shell is lightweight & well-balanced. It is designed to provide maximum protection with a front brim, rear brim, and raised top. The impact ring is a 3/8″ sponge rubber ring that absorbs impact energy. The helmet liner is made of fire retardant cotton and Nomex.
By Bill Koplitz (This image is from the FEMA Photo Library.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
There are a couple different types of gloves firefighters wear. Mostly work gloves and structural firefighting gloves. The work gloves allow better mobility but are not rated for fire-fighting though. One type of work glove is the extrication glove. These are similar to an auto-mechanic’s glove but are made of a heavier rip-proof and puncture resistant material such as Kevlar. However, they are still lightweight enough to maintain dexterity and operate rescue tools or even take a victim’s pulse. For a working fire, structural firefighting gloves have to be worn. These are designed to protect from extreme heat and penetrating objects and still retain some dexterity, though this may be sacrificed as the heat protection is more important. This is often the last item to be donned when gearing up, as that dexterity is needed to perform other tasks, such as putting on the SCBA and tightening straps, particularly for the helmet. The cuff of the glove sits between the wristlet and the end of the coat to offer the most protection.