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History of Bunker Gear & Fall Restraint Vests

Updated: Feb 3, 2022

Bunker gear (aka turnout jackets and pants) is made of fire resistant fabrics (mainly Aramids such as Nomex and Kevlar) or polybenzimidazole (PBI), an engineering marvel. Modern fire gear traces its roots to the first fire helmet, designed in the 1730s by Jacobus Turck, caretaker of New York City's firefighting equipment. The modern shape of the fire helmet, with a brim, long tail and front shield, dates to 1836. Around the same time, fire fighters started wearing red-dyed, woolen pants and long coats that resisted fire and temperature extremes. Heavy leather boots became the norm, completing history's first purpose-designed suit of firefighting gear. Around the turn of the 20th century, rubber began to work its way into the standard suit of firefighting gear. A heavy rubber slicker worn over the long woolen coat protected against heat and water. Rubber also replaced leather as the boot material of choice for its waterproofing ability and heat resistance. However, respirator gear was still minimal. Firefighters often wore airtight bags inflated with air on their backs, periodically drawing fresh air through a hose. The terms "bunker gear" and "turnout gear" also appeared in the early 20th century, though the origins of each are unconfirmed. After World War II, more advanced gear appeared, particularly in terms of materials and respirators, the latter of which came from the aviation industry. Three-layered coats and pants appeared in the 1970s. These included an outer layer to withstand up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, a middle waterproof layer and an inner layer to prevent heat transfer. Today, turnout gear still uses the three-layer format, though the materials have advanced -- webbing & pockets to carry tools, padding, a personal alert safety system & a self-contained breathing apparatus.

(Gear is also available for nuclear, biohazard and chemical weapon protection, and these features are soon to be standard).

In relation to Fall Restraint & Fall Arrest vests, they are Personal Fall Protection Systems and they must be designed to a Fall Arrest standard, but what is the difference between them?

Fall Restraint vests prevent you from falling, while Fall Arrest vests protect you after you fall: they stop the fall before you hit the surface.

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