Fire isn’t the only thing that firefighters have to worry about. The helmets worn on their heads have become a heated issue. A group of firefighters represented by attorneys from Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Rafferty and Proctor and Lucas, Green, Magazine have filed a lawsuit against a safety products manufacturer, Mine Safety Appliances Company (“MSA”), alleging that the size, weight, and design of the Cairns Model 1044 fire helmet caused them severe neck injuries. As explained by Jim Magazine of Lucas, Green and Magazine, “firefighters complain that the top-heavy helmets makes them feel like bobblehead toys.” The lawsuit alleges that due to the uneven weight distribution and unbalanced center of gravity of the helmet, it is increasingly painful for firefighters to perform mission critical tasks such as moving their heads up and down, looking over their shoulders, crawling, climbing, and wearing the helmet for long periods of time.
The cowboy style hat design has been around for over 200 years. The iconic American fire helmet was first designed in 1731. The helmet’s shape, the brass eagle, the significance of its color, and how it is personalized are dictated by firefighting traditions. Despite over two hundred years of advancement in technology, the look of the fire helmet remains essentially unchanged. The 1044 helmet that is at issue in the lawsuit retains its cowboy hat style, brass eagle and number plate identification. The 1044 helmet also boasts a patented inner-helmet called an “impact cap”, which is designed to function as a helmet within a helmet. In addition to the impact cap, the helmet is equipped with a shell release system, a ratchet headband adjustment system, a suspension system, built in goggles, and a 6 inch brass eagle —all of which increase the weight and change the center of gravity of the helmet.
When designing a helmet, the function and application of the helmet must be considered—not just impact. It is up to manufacturers to test their helmets to make sure that firefighters can safely wear them while performing job tasks. The extent to which testing was performed on the Cairns 1044 helmet will undoubtedly be a key issue in the case.