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maritime DC & PPE Information Center
personnel protection

FFH Tip 002
Firefighter Helmet Face Shield History


Why are face shields required on FF Helmets when used with SCBAs?

There actually was an urban legend that had FF helmets without face shields. In fact, they were actually being broken off. Also, many of the FF Helmets in the schools were missing shields. Engineering research was done to see what could be done to fix the problem. Research data from ships found that there were no funds to fix them, so no one fixed them. Over time this affected many ships as more and more helmets were showing up without the shields.

During follow-on fire and flooding tests, this was one of the issues studied. Here are the results:

  1. The FF Helmet is required to have the face shield with or without the SCBA, OBA or just plain old Damage Control.
  2. In Damage Control, tests without the shield were performed, and water pressure and spray were a killer. The face shield offered great protection and made a real difference for the dewatering, plugging, pipe patching and dewatering teams. Using them made for good general safety.
  3. In Firefighting, where there was steam generated, some steam got caught between the shield and the breathing mask and fogged the lens up. The solution was just to flip the shield up. Again, this was a fire with a lot of steam being created, mostly by the test team's hose handling.
  4. In other Firefighting tests (on Shadwell and also when testing the facepiece of the SCBA with the FF Helmet), water and steam were controlled. An investigator coming up on a really hot area was simulated. In these cases the heat was great enough to melt the face shield, but not the SCBA mask facepiece, because of the air cooling effects of the SCBA. The face shield starts to deform between 325-345 degrees. The face shield melts at 400 degrees. This information was used as a quick way for the FF to assess when he was in a very hot environment and needed to understand his risks.
  5. The face shields we have are a balance of impact and heat resistance. These are a step above the commercial version FF Helmets because of the harsh shipboard environment.

Results from this testing was taken back to the commercial FF experts. They confirmed that it happens to them also and that it was a good warning signal that the firefighter is in an extreme environment since they did not have any sensors to tell the temperature around them. They have the option to buy a face shield or not with their helmets, but more and more firefighters are using goggles to protect themselves in environments such as overhaul, rescue, the 9-11 incident and again as a good personal safety practice.