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Case study: How one fire department found the right boot

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By Greg Bogosian
FireRescue1 Staff

For years, firefighters have had to deal with heavy, inflexible structural firefighting boots while performing the most dangerous parts of their daily jobs. The technology used in the making of those boots had, for the most part, not significantly advanced in a direction of comfort and maneuverability, even though it most certainly had in the direction of overall protection from hazards.

Globe looked at this problem, and realized that their knowledge of advanced composite materials could, in fact, make it possible to create a structural boot which not only met the strictest of demands for protection, but also provided a comfortable fit comparable to an athletic shoe. For many departments, this seemingly common-sense advance was a welcome relief on many fronts. The Eagle Fire Department in Idaho, whose service area borders Boise in a region with an overall local population of 700,000, was one of them.

Like many departments, the search for quality equipment has been a long and arduous process for Eagle Fire. Division Chief James Vincent, an 11-year veteran who started his service on 9/11 as a volunteer and worked his way up through the ranks after becoming a full-time paid firefighter in 2003, had encountered issues with previous boot brands.

“We went through a couple of brands,” Vincent said. “First, we had the Pro Warringtons, with the Kevlar in them. Then we went to the Weinbrenner Thorogood. The Pro Warringtons, the Kevlar cracked on them and they started leaking. The Weinbrenner was a decent boot, but it was a military style, really inflexible and heavy, uncomfortable for our guys. We really wanted to find something that would be more comfortable for going up and down the ladders and working.”

With a service area of around 75 square miles, 1,500 calls for service a year, and a structure fire every other month or so, along with the ever more-common medical and extrication calls for service, Vincent needed to find a solution which would be both durable and comfortable, along with being capable of standing up to the various incident types that a modern fire agency handles in a protective sense.

While looking at some of the “new evolution” of boots, Division Chief Vincent met with representatives from Globe. The company, a family-owned operation based out of Pittsfield, New Hampshire whose products are entirely constructed in the USA, had recently come out with a new line of boots, and Vincent wanted to take a look at, among others, their new top-of-the-line offering, the Structural Supreme. A 14” pull-on style boot, it had met all of the NFPA requirements for Structural Firefighting (1971) and Liquid Splash (1992) compliance.

Several things jumped out at him when he first went hands-on with the boot. First and foremost was the surprising level of comfort just walking around in them. Globe introduced a number of new features when rethinking their line, including a composite shank, Vibram contoured cup outsole, and an internal fit system called HEELPORT which holds the wearer’s foot securely in place, allowing a firefighter to run in the boot if needed. The company’s representatives also pointed out that the flexibility and comfort he noticed were in part due to a LENZI puncture-resistance system which utilizes multiple layers of ceramic materials (similar to what police officers wear in their body armor) in the outsole to prevent objects from punching through while still retaining the ability to move with the wearer’s foot.

None of this, of course, really mattered that much if he was going to end up having to replace the boots in a few years, as he had with some of the other brands his agency had used. Here, again, Globe had addressed the issue with a carefully researched and engineered solution, by constructing the boot with Nomex, Kevlar, an insulated and waterproof Crosstech fabric liner, and heavy-duty flame-resistant and waterproof leather, among other features.

Having seen all of this, along with reassurances from Globe about their short turnaround times for replacement (7-10 business days), and with some of his firefighters having tried on the boot for their own feedback, Vincent made the decision to go with the Globe Supreme for many of his personnel (including a few guys with a shoe size at or near 15), with a few going for the Globe Structural 12” Zipper/Speed Lace model for preference and, in a few cases, work restrictions from prior injuries on the job.

One of the first real tests for the boots was when Eagle Fire’s firefighters went to a training school for 9 days. There, they really put the boots through their paces in a controlled environment to see what they could do, and according to Vincent, the feedback was immediate and universally positive. “Everything from going up and down that ladder to moving around, it was like wearing a tennis shoe,” he says. There was no evident damage to the boots after the training was over. For safety, the ScotchLite reflective material placement makes it easy to spot the boot in the dark, and the ability to move with more agility makes the dangerous work that firefighters do every day a little more safe than with the stiff boots of the past.

It’s been four years since Divison Chief Vincent made the decision to switch over, and he says he’s yet to have to replace a boot due to wear or damage, after going through all different types of calls for service. He also speaks very highly of the customer service which Globe has provided him, everything from the initial care taken in fitting all of his firefighters for the correct sized boot, to their assurance to ship replacement boots overnight if needed (those size-15 guys can’t exactly use a spare pair, even if it was economical to buy spares in the first place), to keeping the custom sizing for each firefighter on record so that they can honor that exact-replacement capability within the span of just 7-10 days from the order being placed to the boots being on the firefighters’ feet.

While many agencies go through the trial-and-error process when it comes to finding the right equipment, that process can be costly not only from a financial standpoint (especially in these tough times of budget cuts), but from a human standpoint should the unthinkable happen and a piece of equipment not stand up to the rigors of the work and fail somehow.

Vincent’s experience, and his testimonial, show that Globe’s current line of products have passed the test of real-life use, and he plans on using them for the foreseeable future. Having an engineered solution, where real firefighters were involved in the creation of a product (as is the case extensively with Globe’s creations), results in the best possible marriage of form and function, and the superior equipment which results is easy to pick out of the herd.