The Fire Product Search website looks at a brief history of Fire Helmets and the changing style of the Brigade helmet over the last 150 years
Since 1866, 16 different styles of helmets have been used, ranging from the first leather helmet design through to the iconic brass Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) model and the yellow cork helmet.
The current firefighter helmet, the MSA Gallet F1, is popular worldwide with fire services.
Leather helmet (1866-1868)
Inherited from the London Fire Engine Establishment (LFEE), the leather helmet was worn between 1866 and 1868 before being replaced by the brass helmet.
Brass helmet (1868-1937/1938)
Based on the French 1862 fire helmet – but with a considerable redesign – the brass fire helmet was introduced by the MFB in 1868.
Although it was Chief Officer Massey Shaw’s intention that it should be unique to the MFB, the helmet was adopted by almost all the British fire brigades and became an iconic symbol. Designed to be lightweight, well ventilated and constructed in sections so it could be easily repaired. It is thought the distinctive dragon emblem, which decorates the central comb, was designed by Shaw’s daughter, Anna.
The helmet was in continuous use until 1937/38, making it the longest serving helmet in Brigade history.
Red cork and rubber helmet (1934)
In June 1934, we trialled a completely new concept in fire helmets.
Made of compressed cork and rubber, the cherry red fire helmet proved to be very unpopular with firefighters and, in doing so, became one of the rarest Brigade helmets of all time.
Black cork and rubber helmet (1935-1936)
A further trial in 1935 and 1936 saw a black cork and rubber helmet being tested.
It would appear this style also proved unpopular with firefighters and yet another redesign was called for.
LFB pattern cork and rubber fire helmet (1938-1941)
Introduced throughout 1938, the ‘gold comb’ fire helmet replaced the famous brass helmet once and for all.
Although in use for only three years, it set the general shape and style for Brigade helmets for many years.
LFB steel helmet (1939)
Issued to all regular Brigade firefighters in 1939, the Mk2 steel helmet was originally painted red, however, this made them conspicuous from the sky and the helmets were repainted khaki with a 2 inch (50mm) red band.
The wearer’s station number was painted above the badge and there were no rank markings on the helmets.
Senior officers were identified by a silver badger instead.
Auxiliary Fire Service steel helmet (1940)
Issued to all ranks of the London Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS), the Mk2 steel helmet was painted battleship grey.
It had the wearer’s station number painted in white on a black background above the AFS badge.
Female personnel’s badgers were outlined in blue rather than the red of the male personnel.
National Fire Service steel helmet (1941)
In August 1941, all fire brigades in the United Kingdom were amalgamated to form the National Fire Service (NFS).
Among many other standardised items of equipment, all steel helmets were repainted khaki with the NFS badge and the relevant fire force number, in a disc shaped transfer, on the front brim.
The number 37 fire force covered part of the pre-war LFB area.
Early post-war LFB fire helmet (1947)
The NFS issued an order in 1947 allowing the use of pre-war fire helmets again as long as they were not brass.
They had to be painted black all over and carry the NFS badge.
The fire forces covering the old LFB area were issued with the pre-war cork helmet but with the ornate ‘gold stepped comb’ painted black and the embossed LFB badge removed.
Subsequently on the disbandment of the NFS, the Brigade adopted this helmet but with the London County Council star badge transfer.
Cromwell ‘LFB Pattern’ 2010 helmet (1957)
Introduced around 1957, the Cromwell ‘LFB Pattern’ 2010 helmet carried on the ‘stepped comb’ of the previous style of helmet but with a lower profile.
It became synonymous with the Brigade and continued in service well into the 1970s.
Much cherished by firefighters, many were painted yellow when the new regulations for helmets came into force.
Emergency Tender crew helmet (1957-early 1960s)
Also introduced in 1957 was the Emegency Tender (ET) crew helmet.
They were carried on the Brigade’s two ETs as an alternative to the normal fire helmet.
They were particularly helpful when personnel were working in sewers or confined spaces.
It was used exclusively by ET crews until the early 1960s.
Cromwell ‘county style F135’ cork helmet (early 1970s)
Issue of the F135 helmet began in the early 1970s.
The traditional London ‘stepped comb’ style helmet now slowly slipped into history.
The F135 helmet was widely used by many fire brigades throughout the country but was soon superseded by the yellow fire helmet.
Cromwell county pattern yellow cork helmet (1974-1989/90)
Complying with Home Office requirements in 1974, all black fire helmets were repainted yellow.
Soon after this the Brigade began to issue yellow fire helmets to replace all earlier patterns.
This style of helmet continued in service for almost 15 years.
Pacific fire helmet (1990-1999)
Issued in 1990, the Pacific fire helmet was made in New Zealand.
It was made from glass fibre and Kevlar.
The helmet remained in use for almost a decade until it was replaced by the Cromwell F600.
Cromwell F600 fire helmet (1999-2011)
The Cromwell F600 fire helmet was a great step forward for the Brigade.
The full enclosed helmet had a deep visor, which offered complete protection to the head.
Issued in 1999/2000 they were used until 2010/11.
Gallet F1 fire helmet (2010-present)
The current helmet used by the Brigade is the MSA Gallet F1.
Designed in conjunction with the Brigade de Sapeurs Pompiers de Paris (Paris Fire Brigade) in the early 1980s, this very popular helmet has been put into service by fire brigades worldwide.
It incorporates a google type visor and also a gold mesh heat proof large visor.
It came into service with the Brigade in 2010/2011.
The brief history of Fire Helmets article was adapted from https://www.london-fire.gov.uk/