Helmets and Head Protection

For over a decade, the Emergency Responder Safety Institute (ERSI), a committee of the Cumberland Valley Volunteer Firemen's Association (CVVFA), has advocated for the development of a purpose-designed helmet for roadway incident response. ERSI welcomes renewed interest on this important topic and is working to drive the conversation forward. Here is some of the latest information on different aspects of this issue. If you have insight or information to contribute to the conversation on head protection and helmets for roadway incident response, please contact us.

ASTM International Begins Developing a Helmet Standard for the Pedestrian Roadway Worker (Updated 6/13/2022)

ASTM International’s E54 Committee on Homeland Security Applications is has begun to develop a helmet standard for the pedestrian roadway worker. Pedestrian roadway workers are personnel who work on the nation’s roadways and perform activities to keep traffic flowing smoothly and safely. Pedestrian roadway workers include:

  • Public safety personnel (i.e., fire service, emergency medical services, law enforcement)
  • Road and highway construction and maintenance workers
  • Towing and recovery personnel
  • State departments of transportation workers
  • Safety service patrols

Despite safety measures and training, working in and around moving traffic continues to pose a significant risk of injury or death to roadway personnel from vehicle crashes, pedestrian struck-by-vehicle incidents, and flying debris. Sixty-five responders were killed in stuck-by-vehicle incidents in 2021. In the first five months of 2022, 25 responders have been struck and killed operating on U.S. roadways. You can view the statistics and faces of the fallen on ResponderSafety.com’s fatality reports page.

Currently, there is no helmet standard which meets the operational needs and requirements of pedestrian roadway workers, and there are no helmets specifically designed for that purpose. Therefore, many roadway workers are either currently wearing a helmet not designed to protect against roadway hazards (e.g., hard hat, structural fire helmet) or wearing no helmet at all. Developing a standard for helmets designed specifically for the hazards pedestrian roadway workers face is a critical step in ensuring that manufacturers produce helmets that protect against these hazards effectively.

Lt. Brady Robinette (Lubbock Fire Rescue) and Sergeant Bob Bemis (Pennsylvania State Police, retired) requested that a roadway safety helmet standard be developed. ASTM International’s E54 Committee has agreed to lead this effort. The Emergency Responder Safety Institute thanks and commends the ASTM E54 Committee and the National Institute of Standards and Technology Standards Coordination Office for their commitment to developing this standard. More information on the progress of the standard will be posted on this page as it becomes available.

New Helmet Design Research Announced (Updated 1/6/2022)

Recently, the Emergency Responder Safety Institute provided a grant to support a partnership between Texas Tech and Lubbock Fire Rescue to develop new technologies in head protection that will better protect first responders on the roadway. This research to create a “NextGenHelmet” has now been awarded a grant from the United States Department of Homeland Security. Dr. Suman Chowdhury and a team of Texas Tech researchers will work with fire departments, including Lubbock Fire Rescue, to ensure the new helmet design meets firefighter needs and the demands of today’s firefighting operations. See the announcement here.

Elevating the Conversation on Helmets and Head Protection

The Emergency Responder Safety Institute and ResponderSafety.com recently brought together leaders in research and advocacy for pressing roadway incident response safety issues in the fire service to talk about where we have been, where we are, and where we go from here.

In a wide-ranging conversation with Chief Marc Bashoor, Executive Editor of FireRescue1 and Fire Chief, Lt. Brady Robinette (Lubbock Fire Rescue) discusses the origins of his advocacy on this topic, his research into the history of head protection in the fire service and the suitability of currently available helmets for roadway hazards, and a potential path forward in creating a roadway incident response helmet standard backed by research.

Chief Bashoor also sat down with Nicholas Calvano, a retired engineer with the National Bureau of Standards (now NIST). Mr. Calvano was the engineer who did the original research on firefighter helmets in the 1970's. That research formed the NFPA standard covering structural firefighting helmets, NFPA 1971: Standard on Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting. Mr. Calvano offers his insight on the role of research in developing standards and what he believes today's engineers should be thinking about as they approach how to determine the parameters for a helmet designed specifically for protecting first responders' heads while they work at the scene of a roadway incident.

Bookmark this page so you can return for updates as this initiative continues to develop.

Statistics on Helmet Usage

In 2020, ERSI , conducted a nationwide survey of over 899 fire service and EMS personnel to gather their opinions regarding helmet use at roadway incidents. Despite over 90% of respondents agreeing that the overall life safety hazard of roadway incidents was about the same to much more dangerous than a structure fire, only 46% reported that helmets are always or almost always worn at roadway incidents. Only 32% of respondents reported always or almost always fastening the chin strap on their helmet when working a roadway incident, despite an 84% compliance rate for wearing high visibility apparel. The #1 reason respondents listed for why not to wear a helmet at a roadway incident was "personnel from other response units do not wear helmets." Clearly, there is still a lot of work to do to address the reasons why many emergency services personnel do not wear their helmets consistently and correctly at roadway incidents.

The full report on this survey, including additional detail about reasons why helmets are not worn and the design issues emergency responders identified with existing helmet choices, is available here.

Research by Lt. Brady Robinette

On January 11, 2020, Lt. Eric Hill (Lubbock Fire Rescue) and Officer Nicholas Reina (Lubbock Police Department) were killed when they were struck by a civilian vehicle while working an incident on the roadway. Firefighter Matt Dawson was severely injured. In the wake of this terrible tragedy, Lt. Brady Robinette resolved to take a closer look at how different types of available helmets performed when subjected to the types of forces that occur when an emergency responder is struck at a roadway incident. As a result of his initial research, Lubbock Fire Rescue purchased a different type of helmet to be used at their roadway responses when fire suppression is not necessary. ERSI commends Lt. Brady Robinette of Lubbock Fire Rescue on his initiative to re-examine which type of helmet best protects first responders when they work roadway incidents.

Learn more about Lt. Robinette's work:

  • Read his article "Roadway Incident Operations: What is the Right Helmet for the Job?" in the Fire Engineering October 2020 issue
  • Watch this local news story on new helmets for Lubbock Fire Rescue's roadway responses

ERSI extends our heartfelt condolences to the families of Lt. Hill and Officer Reyna, their departments, and the Lubbock community. We send our best wishes to Firefighter Dawson for his continued recovery.

Online Training Module: Helmets and Head Protection for Roadway Incidents

Until a helmet specifically designed for roadway incident response becomes widely available, it is up to individual fire departments to evaluate available helmets and select one(s) they feel will best protect their personnel. A new Responder Safety Learning Network module, "Helmets and Head Protection for Roadway Incidents" is now available free of charge. This module presents the results of Lt. Robinette's research and guidance on the factors to consider when selecting a helmet for emergency responses on the roadway. The module also features a conversation with Lt. Robinette and Firefighter/Paramedic Matt Dawson, who suffered a TBI and other serious injuries in the January 11, 2020 struck-by incident that took the lives of Lt. Eric Hill of Lubbock Fire Rescue and Officer Nicholas Reyna of the Lubbock Police Department.

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