Got a leather fire helmet and finding that you’d prefer to shape it in a way better suited to your needs as a firefighter? That’s OK, it’s actually quite simple to reshape it and ensure that the brim provides the protection you expect to get the job done. We’ve got a full guide to walk you through every step of the way.
How to bend a leather fire helmet, our guide, includes the way to bend a leather fire helmet with the least chance of causing damage, an introduction to the different bends you can put in a fire helmet, how you can fix any cracks in the leather if they occur, a look at whether helmets can expire and what the best leather fire helmet is for you to bend (or not) in the first place.
In short, it’s all you need to know.
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.
Also read: How to Clean a Leather Fire Helmet
How To Bend A Leather Fire Helmet (At Your Own Risk)
OK, you’ve decided that you want to give your fire helmet something of a restyling. Well, we’ve got a method that you can use but you need to be warned, you do this completely at your own risk.
While the method we recommend is both safe and effective – we cannot guarantee that the leather you are working with is capable of being safely bent or deformed and that you have the patience not to rush things.
Leather is animal hide. That means that it’s a bit like our own skin. The more you bend and crease it, the greater the odds that you’re going to damage it. Mostly, that’s going to mean cracks on the surface of your leather fire helmet, but it might even be possible to tear it.
If that hasn’t put you off the idea of bending your fire helmet then we completely understand and we’d advise you to begin by finding a useful surface to bend the leather around before you get to the actual bending.
Sometimes like a bullnose counter edge is ideal if you’re considering something like a Bronx bend (see below for more details on this) whereas if you want to, say, straighten the brim, you’re going to be better off with a flat countertop.
Then the method for bending your leather fire helmet is as follows:
- Take a deep sink (big enough that you can submerge your helmet’s brim in it) and then fill the sink, with the leather fire helmet in it, with hot water until the brim is fully covered with a bit more water over the top.
- Note: If the water doesn’t feel particularly hot, you can add a kettle or two of boiling water to the mix, but please be careful – the last thing you want is scalded hands rather than a fashionably styled fire helmet.
- Leave the fire helmet to soak for about 5 minutes – you’ll know when it is ready to bend because the leather should feel soft to the touch. Then remove the helmet from the water and reshape, you need to work quickly because as the helmet cools it’s going to lose flexibility.
- IF you haven’t got the shape exactly right when it cools – fill another sink with hot water and start again from the beginning. Be patient and don’t try and force the leather fire helmet into shape, you will damage it if you do. You may find you need to repeat this process more than once.
- When you feel that you have the desired bend in your leather fire helmet, you just want to allow it to cool fully for about 30 minutes (room temperature, mind you, don’t put it in the refrigerator or the freezer as the leather will crack) before it can be worn and the leather has fully hardened
- If the bend affects the brim then you will also need to bend the wire under the brim into the correct shape to support the bend you’ve created
- Finally, now that your leather fire helmet is wet – give it a clean and, particularly, remove the inside liner and give it a thorough scrub
What Is A Bronx Bend?
A Bronx bend is the style of a leather fire helmet when the brim is bent nearly straight down at the back to offer maximum protection to the back of the wearer’s neck.
It’s more severe than the standard bend which offers just a slight downward bend, that is less severe than a Colorado Bend which has a very shallow bend.
How Do You Fix A Crack In A Leather Fire Helmet?
Before you fix a crack in a leather fire helmet, you probably should ask whether you need to fix it or whether you need to replace the helmet completely. Small cracks are fine to fix but if it’s nearly torn in half, a fix won’t restore the protective properties of your helmet.
We should also point out that if you decide to fix your leather fire helmet using anything at all, you may be invalidating any warranty or guarantee provided when you bought it. That’s probably not a big deal to most firefighters but you should be aware of it.
OK, assuming that you’ve only got small cracks in your helmet then the easiest way to tackle them is using:
- Some crack repair sealer – epoxy resin
- Some furnace cement
- Some 150-grit sandpaper – for getting things smooth at the end
Then you need to give the helmet a thorough cleaning and we’d let it air out overnight to ensure that it’s properly dry before you start the work of repairing the crack.
- First, take the crack repair sealer and fill the cracks in just as you are instructed to on the packaging.
- Then look for any parts of the seam that are missing cement or where the cement has become dry and fragile and reseal them.
- Finally, take that sandpaper and smooth out any bumps that you’ve created.
Do Leather Fire Helmets Expire? The Big Controversy
We think it’s best to tread lightly around this subject. It has become a big controversy among many in the fire service. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard 1851 mandated that any element of PPE equipment for firefighters, including helmets, must be removed from service once ten years have elapsed from the date of their manufacture.
This seems, to many firefighters, to be a poor choice and there has been much lobbying to get the NFPA to think again and exempt helmets from this rule. There has also been a proposed compromise that allows for 15 years prior to the expiration of a helmet.
This probably wouldn’t be too contentious if it wasn’t for the fact that the helmets must not only be removed from duty but either destroyed or otherwise defaced so that they cannot be deployed in a firefighting operation. Many feel this is a waste of a perfectly good helmet.
What Is The Best Leather Fire Helmet?
Our pick for the best leather fire helmet, whether or not you want to bend the leather is the:
Why did we choose this one? Well, they’ve got a long history, since 1836 in fact, of making top quality firefighting gear and this is a full hand-crafted, hand-shaped, and hand-stitched helmet that is meant to last you for years without needing too much in the way of additional maintenance.
Here is a video showing how they are made:
It’s available to fit most head sizes and there is a brass eagle holder on the front too. The glass face shield is top quality and resists high temperatures without corroding.
The quick release buckle comes in really handy (excuse the pun) when you’ve only got one hand free to take off your fire helmet.
Finally, it’s fully compliant to NFPA standards which means that you can wear it safe in the knowledge that you’ve bought a leather firefighting helmet that really works.
Now you know how to bend a leather fire helmet and how to take care of your leather helmet once you have done so. It might come as a surprise to learn that fire helmets are only classified as effective PPE for 10 years, though that may change.
There is no better helmet to bend and work in than the Cairns Houston Leather Helmet which we feel is a genuine lifesaver for a firefighter and which will repay your investment in it many times over.