If you want to be a firefighter then you’d better start training now. Not only do firefighters have to spend long hours on their feet working in dangerous conditions, but they have to do it while carrying a full set of turnout gear and, potentially, other safety equipment too.
Firefighting turnout gear weighs between 45 and 80 pounds (20 to 36kg). This includes the helmet, hood, turnout coat and pants, boots, gloves, SCBA (air pack), facemask, and various tools.
Let’s take a look at where all that weight comes from and why it is necessary for firefighters to wear such heavy gear.
Your # 1 priority is keeping your family safe. As a firefighter, I recommend everyone has updated smoke detectors that don’t require battery changes, like these ones from Kidde, a fire extinguisher, like this one from Amerex, and a fire escape ladder if you have bedrooms above the first floor, I recommend this one from Hausse.
How Much Does Firefighter Gear Weigh?
Firefighters carry a lot of equipment and while each item might not seem to be all that heavy by itself, it quickly adds up to a substantial weight to carry.
If you want some figures to compare this weight to, in ordinary day-to-day life the average woman wears around 1.75lbs. of clothing. The average man, on the other hand, uses about 2.25 lbs. of clothing.
This, of course, means that a firefighter will be carrying about 40 lbs. minimum more weight than an average person when they’re on duty.
The firefighter’s safety helmet is a heavy beast, and it has to be, its job isn’t just to let people know that you’re a firefighter, it’s to stop your head from being caved in if something falls on it.
You can expect your average firefighter’s helmet to weigh 4 lbs. The weight will increase if you add personalized torches or a thermal imaging camera.
The Nomex hood that most firefighters wear in addition to a helmet isn’t so heavy but it does add another 4 ounces (0.25 lbs.) to the weight of things and every little bit helps to increase the load that the firefighter must carry all day long.
Your pants are among the largest items of clothing, and they have to be made of heavy-duty material to ensure that you don’t get burned easily and that you don’t get soaked through when using the hose.
They can weigh up to 15 lbs. possibly even more and that’s a hefty weight when you consider how light a standard pair of jeans is.
The turnout coat which is the standard jacket worn by almost every firefighter weighs in at a fairly hefty 8-10 lbs. depending on the size of the firefighter.
Again, like your pants, it needs to be able to withstand a lot of abuse in the field and leave you protected all the time.
Gloves might seem like a trivial item, but they can weigh almost 1 lb. for a pair. Again, this is because they need to be much tougher than ordinary gloves to ensure you stay protected as you work.
They also need to be able to withstand the friction that can be caused by the fire hose rubbing against them.
A firefighter’s boots are an essential kit and they ensure that you don’t get your toes crushed as you work in dangerous environments as much as they protect against flame.
They are also very heavy when compared to say, a pair of sneakers. You can expect your boots to weigh 10 lbs. or even more! They are a substantial part of the weight you carry.
Your air pack or self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) offers air that should last, in theory, for 30-60 minutes though the reality may be closer to 15-30 minutes when you consider the rigors of the job.
These air packs can be quite heavy, depending on the type, materials, and amount of compressed air storage. SCBAs can range from 25 to 50+ pounds.
Thermal Imaging Camera
A thermal imaging camera needs to be rugged enough to stand up to the heat intensity in a fire situation too and that means it must be reinforced and rubberized to endure.
This also means it weighs a bit more than a Go-Pro or similar-looking camera. You can expect a thermal imaging camera to add up to 2lbs. to the weight of your gear, in fact.
A firefighter will usually need a radio when working on a call. That’s so that they can stay in touch with their crew even if they lose sight of them in the smoky environment of a fire.
The radios need to be tough enough to withstand the perils of the job and that makes them quite a bit heavier than a cellphone and you can expect them to add 2-5 lbs. to the overall weight of your kit.
Also read: What Is A Code 4? Firefighter Radio Codes
A safe box light for a firefighter’s kit will add just 2 more pounds to the pile but by now, you’re probably groaning as every small item is added to your kit.
Irons (Halligan Bar & Axe)
The ax weighs 8 lbs. and the bar another 6 lbs. However, there’s no doubt that these two items are the best striking and prying tools in the business, and they can help you breach walls, open doors, break windows, and more.
Here is a video that shows all the gear and gives you an idea of how heavy it is:
Why Does Firefighter Gear Weigh So Much?
Firefighter gear is required to do two things.
- The first is to keep the firefighter as safe as possible. This is in the middle of a superheated environment, while they work for potentially hours at a time. That means it needs to be very solid, indeed.
- Second, it needs to be durable so that it will last. Firefighting is notoriously hard on equipment. That means it can’t just fall to pieces after each call, it’s going to be needed again, however, it should be properly cleaned after each use to ensure the safety of the user and to help prolong its life span.
How Is Gear Cleaned After A Call?
Mainly a firefighter’s turnout gear will end up in a commercial washing machine (called an extractor) which helps to remove all contaminants and potentially cancerous particles from the gear.
This can take a little time and thus, many fire departments ensure that their crew has two sets of turnout gear so that one set can be washed and the other worn.
If you’re lucky, the fire department you’re in may also provide a “gear drier” which is an industrial scale drier that allows you to quickly suit up once your turnout gear has been washed.
What Does All This Gear Cost?
Turnout gear is not cheap. In fact, once you factor in the SCBA, a single set of turnout gear can set a fire department back over $6,000 per person.
That means one of the largest items in a fire department’s operating budget is for day-to-day turnout gear and while it is long-lasting it won’t last forever and that means it has to be replaced semi-regularly too.
How Long Is Firefighter’s Gear Meant To Last?
The NFPA says that you should replace your firefighting gear at least once every 10 years after being put into service.
In reality, much of it doesn’t last this long due to rips and tears gained on the job or even too much exposure to heat.
Fire departments try to stretch the life of gear by using qualified repair agencies to try and bring the damaged gear back up to spec but no chances can be taken – if a piece of firefighting gear is no longer up to scratch? It must be thrown out.
The Importance Of Physical Fitness For Firefighters
And this brings us, finally, to the importance of physical fitness for firefighters. A typical firefighter might weigh between 130 and 200 lbs.
That means their gear is between 50% and 33% of their body weight! This is a lot of extra weight to carry and the only way to make it happen is to remain in peak physical fitness.
This is why so much emphasis is placed on fitness during recruitment and once you’re in a crew.