America reassures firefighters with revolutionary fire and bullet proof helmet

America's beloved first responders are finally getting the upgrade they deserve. But it isn't fewer guns in the hands of civilians.
Amal Jos Chacko
Firefighters in action.jpg
Firefighters in action.

Tim Freitag/iStock 

To meet the increasing range of crises firefighters respond to, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Science and Technology directorate is funding the development of a new, all-purpose NextGen helmet to protect firemen from bullets and fire.

Currently, firefighters carry one helmet for fire protection and another for ballistic protection, which leads to inadequate protection if a present situation develops into another, such as a fire breaking out when a shooter is at large.

The DHS aims to develop a helmet in collaboration with Texas Tech University (TTU) that offers thermal and ballistic protection, as well as visors and face shields, communication devices, and thermal lighting, while keeping weight at a minimum since the additions could shift the helmet’s center of gravity, leading to spine and muscle injuries.

The project is already well underway, with researchers exploring Kevlar fiber. These fibers could reinforce thermosetting resins, creating a shell that meets ballistic and thermal protection standards.

While there is significant research assessing injuring mitigating design solutions for military and motorcycle helmets, there is a lack of existing systematic research for helmets that address ballistic protection and other firefighting concerns.

America reassures firefighters with revolutionary fire and bullet proof helmet
Left: Volunteers performing range-of-motion tasks while wearing a traditional firefighter helmet; right: A 3-mm thick composite helmet shell is tested using the torsion rectangular fixture on an ARES rheometer

A combination of principles and methods from four key areas— reverse engineering, materials design, injury biomechanics, and human factors engineering— form cornerstones of the approach towards prototypes developed.

These prototypes are to be tested with state-of-the-art equipment such as Delsys Trigno (trademarked) Wireless electromyography systems, 10-camera Eagle optical digital motion capture systems, and Pupil Core-eye trackers.

A combination of this equipment, Abaqus finite-element modeling software to develop human head and neck models, HyperMesh to process helmet imaging data, and OpenSim musculoskeletal modeling software to develop head and neck biomechanical models have been used to develop a digital helmet prototype.

Preparing for the market

The NextGen helmet is expected to meet various protection standards and key performance parameters such as the NFPA 1951:2013 protective standard for technical rescue incidents, and the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration 1910.156 fire brigade standard.

Self-contained breathing apparatus masks and communication systems will be integrated with the helmet, preventing any inhibition of the wearer’s hearing and vision.

The DHS estimates an operational field assessment to take place in mid-2023, when firefighters brought in will assess all aspects of the helmet’s design and capabilities.

The Office of Research Commercialization, TTU, is tasked with certifying the final product, filing appropriate patents, and accelerating licensing to bring the technology to market.

America’s most beloved first responders are finally getting the upgrade they deserve.

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