Central Whidbey Fire & Rescue tries sleek new helmets

It looks more like a motorcycle helmet, is lighter weight, offers a reduced profile and improved balance.

But there’s one barrier standing in the way of the new firefighting helmets that Central Whidbey Fire &Rescue firefighters recently unpacked from boxes.

Tradition.

“The iconic American firefighter with the traditional-style helmet is kind of an identity thing,” said Central Whidbey Fire Chief Ed Hartin.

But Hartin decided to buck tradition and give the new European-style helmets a try anyway.

He ordered 10 of the Rosenbauer Heros-titan helmets to explore them on a trial but had to wait for more than a year before they got the official stamp of approval by the National Fire Protection Association for use in the United States.

The boxes arrived earlier this month. Central Whidbey Fire &Rescue is the only fire district on Whidbey Island using them and likely the only department in the state of Washington, Hartin said.

“We’re pretty excited to have the first batch,” Capt. Jerry Helm said. “These net serial numbers on the helmets are in the hundreds.”

It’s all part of a pilot program. Hartin had used them before while instructing in Europe and figured the timing was right because many of the department’s traditional helmets are nearing the end of their service cycle.

“We’re trading image and looks for form and function,” Helm said.

Those trying out the helmets will be required to do monthly surveys, weighing in on everything from their performance measures, weight, fit and comfort.

“At the end of 90 days, we’ll make a decision,” Hartin said. “We have a number of helmets that in the next year will reach the end of their lives, so we need to replace them. This is kind of a quick and dirty pilot test to see what’s the member’s perception. Thus far, the feedback has been pretty good.”

Yet, it’s a stark departure from the long-brimmed traditional helmet that features a larger face shield and ear flaps.

The new model has a smoother profile with protection provided lower on the sides of the head and a fabric neck curtain in the rear to interface with the collar of the turnout coat, Hartin said.

Helm likes how well he can maneuver with the new helmet, which weighs about 2.8 pounds compared to the 3.75 pounds of the traditional helmet.

This is the second European-style model that has met NFPA approval, but the first one couldn’t break American firefighter tradition and fizzled out.

“I would have been for this seven years ago but I know what firefighters wear on their heads is a really big deal,” Hartin said.