Firefighter Boots - 10 steps to Comfort and Protection
This article covers the key features for fire fighting footwear in the UK for all jobs not requiring type 3 protection (structural fire intervention with chemical risk). It covers 10 points on comfort and protection to allow fire fighters to perform safely over extended periods with reduced risk of injury, fatigue and overheating.
Patrol Store’s specialist Fire Division has researched available fire fighting boots that conform to type F2 (structural fire intervention) and F1 (forestry/wild fire intervention). To illustrate an approach to footwear selection we will use HAIX as an example as we believe that Haix’s specialist products provide some of the best options to the UK market. The German manufacturer is a very established provider of fire fighting footwear internationally and continually undertakes extensive product development and testing, both in the lab and real world.
So using Haix’s data and products as an example of evaluating fire fighting footwear, here are the 10 steps to Comfort and Protection:
- What standards should my Fire Fighting boots adhere to?
The standard for footwear for fighting forest/wild fires is UK CA EN 15090:2012 F1. Toe cap protection is optional.
The standard for footwear for fighting structural fires is UK CA EN 15090:2012 F2 (a higher standard than F1). Toes cap protection is compulsory (see 3 below)
In addition boots can be certified as F2A (denoting that they are anti-static) and HI3 (certifying that the outer sole can withstand 250°C for 40 minutes). (There are lower HI ratings of HI1 and HI2, but Haix only certify to the highest level, which is good practice).
HAIX’s policy is that all their fire fighting boots (whether designed for fighting Forest/Wild fires or Structural fires) comply to the higher F2 standard and additionally are F2A (anti-static) and HI3 (the highest heat rating). This means that they provide protection against the cold and wet and against any burn injuries that may be sustained whilst on duty.
- What features do I need to keep my team safe from surface and under-foot threats?
Specifications are important when considering surface and under-foot risks. The main elements to be considered are;
- Water and chemical resistance
- Puncture resistance of sole
- Slip resistance of sole
- Antistatic properties
- Provision of insulation against heat and cold.
Going through these in order;
- Covered in 6. Below
- All fire fighting boots must have a ‘Puncture Resistant Plate’ in the sole.
- There is no requirement for fire fighter boots to be slip resistant, but it is preferable if they are. (All HAIX boots are slip resistant)
- A system to prevent the build-up of static is a very advantageous property, preventing wearer-generated sparks in hazardous situations. In theory, unless the ‘A’ on the EN certification is specified, there is no need to have antistatic properties. For simplicity all HAIX boots in their fire fighter range have a unique anti-static system bringing them up to this highest standard. Unlike ‘standard’ systems which generally incorporate the anti-static properties in the insole (thus risking the loss of properties if an insole is changed), the HAIX system builds the anti-static system into the body of the boot giving the ultimate protection and peace of mind.
- As covered in 1. above, high-level heat insulation is covered with the ‘HI’ elements of certification. Best practice (as followed by HAIX) is to manufacture all fire fighting boots to the highest ‘HI3’ standard. This additionally has the added benefit of very effectively insulating against cold.
- What Toe Protection do I need?
In theory toe protection is optional for Forest/Wild fire (F1) boots but compulsory for Structural fire (F2) boots. As a policy all Haix fire fighter boots have toecaps that protect to 200J which is the mandatory standard for the higher F2 boots. This means that they can withstand a 20kg weight dropping from a height of one metre, or they can also withstand a 2,000kg mass rolling over the toe cap. They protect your feet from being crushed when it counts most.
- What can I do to make sure my team are comfortable and avoid overuse injuries?
By the nature of the protection levels afforded by fire fighting boots, there is always the potential for user comfort to be compromised. This has potentially serious impact on both usability over long periods and on the potential for work-related injuries, both muscular and skeletal. As well as adhering to important safety requirements, HAIX fire fighting boots are also extremely comfortable to wear. A patented shock-absorption system cushions users’ steps to reduce pressure on the back and spine. No pressure points or slippage occurs, even after many hours of wearing.
- How can I make sure the boots fit each user correctly?
Personalisation is key to a correct fit. Fire fighters, like the general population, have feet of different widths and structures. Uniquely, HAIX have a range of 3 different insoles to enable each user to get the best possible fit for their fire fighting boots
- How can I make sure the boots are waterproof to the highest levels?
Preventing water (and on occasion biological and chemical agent) ingress to fire fighting footwear is critical. There are several membranes on the market that manufacturers incorporate in their designs to accomplish degrees of protection. HAIX use market-leading membranes from GORE-TEX® (for water resistance) and CROSSTECH® membranes (for protection against water, blood, bacteria, chemicals such as oil, lubricants and fuel, solvents and mild acids). The significant benefit of both these membranes is their high breathability ratings, meaning wearers’ feet are protected from sweating – an important factor in comfort and usability over long periods of operational wear.
- How do I keep my team comfortable and avoid overheating of the feet whilst wearing waterproof boots?
A significant challenge to footwear designers for those in a fire fighting environment, HAIX have come up with a patented Climate System which cleverly uses the pumping movements generated by walking to transport moisture and heat to special openings at the shaft of the boot for expulsion.
- Can I offer protection from the Sun’s heat when dealing with wild fires in the Summer?
Additional heating of the feet by the sun during the summer months when forest/wild fires are being tackled is a real but often overlooked problem, particularly during the long shifts often associated with this work. Most manufacturers ignore this problem but the leather used to make HAIX fire fighting boots includes special pigments within the leather which reflect sunlight and help stop the boot from overheating.
- My team need to be able to get their fire fighting kit on quickly – how can we ensure that?
Because every second counts when a call goes out, it is extremely important that fire fighter footwear is designed to be easy and quick to put on. Standard lace-up models can be slow to put on but many manufacturers still use this system. HAIX boots are designed from the outset to counter this problem by using either slip-on designs or, for lace-up models, a fast fastening system or incorporated zip –just pull up and fix the tab, and you are ready to go.
- How do I avoid issues with laces getting caught during use?
Once fastened, laces can be a very real trip hazard and additionally, if caught during operational use, boots can become loose leading to instability at the worst possible time. HAIX overcome this risk by tucking laces away in bespoke pockets, eliminating the risk of them catching on foreign objects.
By using an aide memoire such as the 10 points in this article a purchaser can ensure that footwear provided to fire fighters not only adheres to the necessary minimum standards, but preferably both exceeds those and also incorporates comfort, wearability and safety features to both additionally protect staff and deliver an enhanced user experience. So to recap, below is a précis list for use when assessing your fire fighting footwear options:
- Conform to the relevant EN 15090:2012 standards with potentially additional heat and anti-static elements.
- Outsoles specification for surface and under-foot threats.
- Protective Toe Caps
- Shock Absorbing Midsole to protect Spine and Back
- Personalised, accurate fitting system
- Protection against water and chemical/biological hazards
- Avoidance of overheating by the sun.
- Rapid securing system.
- Prevention of lace hazards.
For further information on fire fighting footwear or any other fire & rescue requirements, please contact Aran in the Patrol Store Fire Division on 01737 223062, or to view the HAIX range of fire fighter footwear, click HERE.