New York-style helmets are hot with firefighters

By Susan McRoberts
Staff Writer

WHITTIER -- Los Angeles County firefighters are wearing several hats these days.

"For at least three months now, some firefighters have been wearing New York Fire Department-style helmets,' said Capt. Brian Jordan, department spokesman. "They've purchased (the new helmets) with their own money.'

Each county firefighter is provided with a department-issue yellow plastic helmet that has a small bill, but some have opted to spend $250 to $500 for New York-style helmets made by one of three manufacturers.

The less- expensive model is made of composite plastic, while the most costly is made of leather. The new helmets have a longer bill than the ones issued by Los Angeles County. They're more like what people picture when they think of a firefighter's helmet, said Jordan.

Although the county Fire Department has not opted to go with New York-style helmets for all its firefighting personnel, "there has been talk about that,' Jordan said.

"As of now, the decision has not been made,' he said, adding that department administrators have put off any decision until after today .

Some county firefighters at Station 17 in Whittier have purchased and started wearing the New York-style helmets.

"We're just trying to get an idea of what the different helmets are like,' said Capt. Gary Wayt of Station 17. "The general opinion so far is that the guys like the traditional look a little bit better. They fit very well. They are well made and have better suspensions in them.'

Wayt said the old, yellow plastic helmets are a bit outdated, as far as current safety standards, plus they tend to wear out faster.

"That's why the department is looking at new ones,' he said. "This is just a way for the department to get some feedback. Personally, I'm not a big hat person. I wear it for safety. I don't have strong feelings for or against either type.'

The New York-style helmets meet current safety standards and are rated higher in safety than the department-issue helmets, according to the National Fire Protection Association, said Capt. John Crain at Fire Station 28 in Whittier.

"I like the new ones better, personally. I think they look better,' he said.

While safety is one issue, most of the firefighters who bought the new helmets did so as a tribute to the New York firefighters who died or survived the World Trade Center collapse.

"This is one of the ways we're allowed to honor them,' said Capt. Jack Pritchard of Fire Station 15 in East Whittier. "They wear that style.'

Pritchard has made two trips to New York since Sept. 11 to help firefighters at Station 15 in Manhattan, his East Whittier station's sister station, he said.

"They are an engine company, just like us,' he said. "They responded that day. They were in the first building, which was the second one to fall. They ran for their lives and they all made it.'

Pritchard has purchased the more-expensive, leather New York-style helmet, while Engineer Bill Lenzen at Station 17 bought the composite model.

"I like the traditional helmet better,' Lenzen said. "But for some of our incidents, like brush fires, it's too big and heavy. It's cumbersome.'

Susan McRoberts can be reached at (562) 698-0955, Ext. 3029, or by e- mail at .

photo below

Los Angeles County Fire Captain Jack Pritchard from Station 15 in Whittier cinches up his New York-style helmet. (Keith Durflinger / Staff Photographer