By Michael Petroff
Retired battalion chief/training officer
From the first fire companies in the 1700's to present day, firefighters are outfitted head-to-toe with leather. Leather is durable, moisture resistant and pliable. To preserve these natural features, cleaning and oiling leather with Neatsfoot oil is important.
The most highly decorated, visible and respected leather accessory is the leather helmet front. Fronts, also referred to as shields or front pieces, may be personalized and covered in gold leaf. Several manufacturers have patriotic designs on their products. Reflective materials are also used. Fronts also have a practical application. Helmet fronts can assist with accountability. Company numbers and color codes can be used to identify freelancing firefighters. FDNY uses a color code on company number panel to identify the firefighter as a member of a truck, rescue or engine company. Cost for a 4-inch front is $40 and $150 for gold leaf 6-inch fronts.
Aside from helmets, many other fire service accessories are made of leather. Gloves, boots and even coats have been made of leather. The first fire hoses were made of riveted leather. Here are the main things to consider when buying radio holsters and straps, medic holsters, suspenders and other accessories.
Leather tends to mold itself to "custom" fit the scissors, penlights and other equipment carried by medics in belt holsters. However, the advantage of durability of leather is offset by the heavier weight of the materials compared to nylon or other synthetic materials. Leather holsters also often cost more than nylon. Cost for a typical holster is $40.
Leather radio holsters must match the portable radio, unless a "universal" holster is used. Accessories for radio holsters include shoulder straps, anti-sway straps, microphone clips and reflective trim. Cost for a typical set is $50-$60.
Leather suspenders, as with other products, weigh more than comparable synthetic materials, but leather is durable and will not stretch as elastic suspenders do. Suspenders cost $40 to $100.
Other leather accessories include tool pouches, axe sheaths, truck belts and glove keeper straps. Hand tooling names or company numbers customize leather accessories. The tradition of using leather in the fire service is not likely to fade away. From helmets to truck belts, the fire service recognizes the durability and tradition of leather.
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Michael Petroff is a retired battalion chief from the Ferguson Fire Department of St. Louis County, Missouri. BC Petroff served for more than 32 years, progressing through the ranks. He served on the St. Louis County Overhead response team, and is an instructor for national, state and local fire agencies. BC Petroff is a former western region director for the Fire Department Safety Officers Association, a member of the National Fire Protection Association 1021 Committee, a member of the Thomson Delmar Fire Advisory Board, and serves as the region VII regional advocate for the Everyone Goes Home Life Safety Initiatives Program.