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What Is Turnout Gear?

By Paul Scott
Updated May 17, 2024
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The term turnout gear is used by firefighters to describe their protective clothing and equipment. In most cases, the term is applied only to the helmet, jacket, pants, and boots worn by firefighters when out on call but may also refer to specialized equipment such as hazmat suits. Basic turnout gear for most fire departments consists of garments which are comfortable enough to allow free movement and which offer protection against heat, flames and embers, falling debris, and water. Specialized gear includes self contained breathing apparatus, communications devices, and suits which allow firefighters to work with hazardous substances or in close proximity to extreme heat.

Also known as bunker gear, turnout gear is the firefighter's first line of defense against the many hazards inherent to the job. The term is usually specifically applied to the outer protective garments worn by firefighters but may be broadly applied to both the clothing and other, less frequently used, specialized equipment. Although global standards differ, the protective clothing which makes up the average turnout gear set includes a helmet, jacket, trousers, boots, and gloves. All of these items include design features and are made of materials which offer very specific protection.

The jackets and trousers worn by firefighters is typically a complex composite of water, flame, and heat resistant, insulating and moisture wicking materials. The outer layers typically consist of tough, thermally resistant materials such as Nomex®/Kevlar® blends treated with a water repellent. The inner layers of the garments usually feature thermal insulation and moisture barrier materials to keep the wearer warm and dry. Most jackets include specially designed cuffs which ensure an overlap with gloves. Pants usually include high front and back panels and robust suspenders.

The helmets worn by firefighters offer primary protection from heat and falling debris but generally include a range of peripheral protective features. These include heat resistant visor and communications attachments and neck flaps to prevent water and embers from entering the jacket. The outer shells protect against impact, heat, and electrical contact and are generally constructed of high impact plastics, Kevlar®, and carbon fiber. Most are equipped with a set of chin straps to secure the helmet during strenuous activities.

Turnout gear boots are generally made of rubber or leather and may be of various lengths depending on the duties or policies of the particular department. They typically include a steel toe cap to protect against impact injuries and feature fire resistant treatments and puncture resistant midsole plates. Turnout gear gloves are usually represented by light, general purpose work gloves and heavy structural firefighting gloves. The lighter gloves allow a significant range of manual dexterity while the heavier gloves offer a high degree of heat and puncture resistance.

Specialized turnout gear items are seldom used on an average first-response call but rather where out-of-the-ordinary situations are encountered. These items include full, reflective proximity suits which allow firefighters to get close to the source of a fire and hazmat or splash suits for hazardous or toxic materials. Self contained breathing apparatus and helmet mount communications sets are usually used by firefighters to enter burning buildings, and wildfire gear is specifically designed to be worn by brush firefighters.

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