Just as fire trucks have undergone significant changes over the past few hundred years, and firefighting tools have become incredibly advanced, the clothing worn by firefighters has also become rather advanced over time. Civilization was putting out fires in ancient Egypt as early as the third century BC when someone had the good idea to invent a water pump.
Since that time, everything used by firefighters has undergone gradual changes and upgrades. Obviously, today’s fireman tools are made of space-age materials and advanced designs, but most of the clothing worn today still bears a small resemblance to the items worn by firefighters centuries ago.
A Tough Job for Early Firefighters
Official fire brigades were developed in the 1600s and were seen as particularly essential after the disastrous London fire in the 1660s. Unfortunately, early firefighters had very little access to any protective gear, and they didn’t even have a reliable method for transporting the water to the fire.
It wasn’t until many decades later that someone would have the good idea to attach wheels to a water pump so that the fire could be put out swiftly, even if the firefighters didn’t have proper gear.
The First Firefighting Helmets
The first true gear for firefighters appeared in the early 1700s when firefighters in New York City started using leather helmets that featured a wide brim. Obviously, helmets have come a long way since this first, basic version.
The second type of helmet used by firefighters appeared in the first half of the 19th century when a man named Henry T. Gratacap invented a modern helmet that actually featured a shield for the front of the face.
The Invention of Protective Clothing
The 1800s also saw inventors starting to expand upon the fire tools and clothing used by early firefighters. The earliest examples of protective clothing for fire fighting started to appear in the early 1800s.
The protective clothing was usually made of quite thick material so that it would protect a firefighter against a blaze. Unfortunately, these early pieces of clothing were difficult to move in, and they weren’t truly resistant to fire.
Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus
Protective clothing would advance further still when a man named James Braidwood created a breathing apparatus made of canvas and rubber. A firefighter would wear the device on his back with it attached like a backpack that also had a belt fastener.
The device had two rubber hoses through which the firefighter would be able to breathe. The sacks were filled with air and sealed with a cork until one of the men needed to use it to breathe. The device also had a nose clamp to further protect the firefighter from smoke inhalation.
The Modern Era
Most of the firefighting gear we see today was developed after World War II. A variety of inventors took up the responsibility of developing gear that would protect firefighters. Interestingly, modern breathing equipment for fighting fires actually came out of research done to help pilots breathe at high altitudes.
Advancements in protective gear didn’t end with World War II, however. Advancements in materials used and the style of clothing worn have continued to occur throughout the millennium.