When it comes to the harshest and most dangerous jobs in the world, being a wildland firefighter is certainly on the top of the list. To help ensure their safety on a daily basis, wildland firefighters rely on specialized gear and uniforms to protect them. Below is a brief history of the wildland uniform as well as a breakdown of the individual parts of it.

Wildland Firefighter Uniform

History of the Wildland Firefighter Uniform

The history of wildland firefighting is very interesting because of the adjustment in methodology when it comes to preventing wildland fires from starting. Previous eras saw only suppression of fires but new and developing intelligence about fires shows that there is a need for controlled burns to promote growth. That was not always the case when it came to best practices for wildland firefighters. Here is a timeline of the most important moments and events that led up to the present work of firefighters all across the United States:

  • 1630: Selectmen in Boston demand that no houses have roofs made from a thatch of chimneys built with wood
  • 1648: Governor Peter Stuyvesant of New Amsterdam (present-day New York City) appointed fire inspectors to enforce fire code violations
    • Brigades formed (the first instance of a fire organization) when a fire was spotted in the city
  • August 20, 1886: First wildland firefighters emerged from Troop M of the U.S. cavalry (led by Captain Moses Harris) and were stationed in Yellowstone National Park to protect the park.
    • These men fought wildfires and enforced fire regulations for those camping in the park.
  • 1910: Wildland fires destroyed more than 5 million acres of forest in Arizona, Montana, and Idaho. They also devastated businesses and killed more than 80 people, primarily firefighters.
    • U.S. Congress decided to allocate more funds to the Forest Service to prevent and control fires.
  • 1919: Forestry for the Nation policy was created by Henry B. Graves to promote collaboration between private and federal agencies to protect the wildlands.
  • 1934: Smokejumping was proposed by T.V. Pearson.
  • 1939: Experimental program for smokejumping began in the Northwest Pacific Region.
  • 1940: First official smokejump completed in Idaho Nez Perce National Forest.
  • 1957: U.S. Forest Service created a special task force to develop safety guidelines for firefighters.
  • Richard McArdle (chief of U.S. Forest Service) released ten standard fire orders, a milestone for training and incident command.
  • 1993: NFPA standard was introduced and discusses the equipment and protective clothing that should be worn during missions for the protection of the firefighters.

The development of standards when it comes to clothing is especially important and deserves further examination.

Wildland Fire Shirts/Brush Shirts

In general, wildland fire shirts are made from highly durable and fire-resistant materials such as Nomex or Tecasafe materials which exceed the NFPA 1977 standards. In general, these materials are engineered to insulate the user while also not melting under extreme temperatures making them ideal for fire protection.

Why Do Wildland Firefighters Wear Yellow Shirts?

In years past, the original color of the shirts worn by firefighters was orange, but these orange shirts created problems with air support. The pilots of the aircraft carrying fire retardants thought the orange was small fires and ended up dousing the firefighters with the fire retardant.

Today, wildland firefighters usually wear bright yellow shirts because of the color's ease of visibility in the sometimes dark, smokey, and wooded areas firefighters commonly work in.

Nomex shirts

Wildland Fire Pants/Brush Pants

Much like the bright yellow fire shirts, specialized flame resistant wildland fire pants are also worn by wildland firefighters. In most cases the pants themselves are modeled after the tried and true standard U.S. military issue BDU pants. These Battle Dress Uniform pants have been in service since the early 1980’s and are a classic pattern of pants used for many different hard-use applications.

What Are Wildland Fire Pants Made of?

Wildland fire pants are made from flame-resistant, synthetic Nomex material. As discussed above concerning the brush shirt, the Nomex material can withstand the heat of the fire and provide more than adequate protection to the firefighter. It is important to note that all firefighters are required to wear 100% cotton undergarments beneath the brush pants because synthetic materials (nylon, rayon, or polyester) will melt into the skin under extreme heat.

What Is Nomex Aramid?

The Nomex material is an aramid (an industrially-manufactured aromatic polyamide), specifically a meta-aramid. It is known for having beneficial flame-resistant properties, effective filtration, and insulation applications perfect for firefighting.

Can Nomex Catch on Fire?

Nomex is a flame-resistant material and will cease to burn as soon as the flame is removed. Its ability to carbonize and thicken in intense heat makes it an effective barrier between the wearer and fires. It can withstand temperatures of up to 700 degrees Fahrenheit (370 degrees Celsius).

Wildland Fire Boots

When out in no-man’s land, it is important for firefighters to feel steady on their feet. That is why wildland firefighting boots are highly specialized items with some specific characteristics such as: eight-inch height, lugged-soles, heavy leather leather construction, and fire resistance laves. Putting out a fire is difficult enough without having to worry about stumbling around on a sprained ankle.

Other Wildland Firefighter Gear and Equipment

In addition to the brush shirts, pants, and boots, firefighters in the wildlands also need to have the following gear for ultimate protection against flames, smoke, and heat:

  • Gloves - to handle gear effectively and protect a firefighter's hands
  • Fire Helmet/Hard Hat - to protect the head from falling rocks and/or tree limbs
  • Shrouds and Masks - to filter smoke and shield against the heat
  • Goggles and Safety Glasses - to keep small debris and smoke out of the eyes
  • Line Pack - to carry necessary gear and supplies at all times
  • Fire Shelter - a personal safety device of last resort used by wildland firefighters when trapped by flames
  • Water Bottle - to stay hydrated!
  • Earplugs or Earmuffs - to offer hearing protection from chainsaws and heavy equipment noise

Wildland Firefighter Uniforms By Propper

Propper has met the evolving needs of the military and first responders of all kinds for over 50 years, thanks to a no-compromise manufacturing process of apparel and gear. We know who we make our products for, and it’s a difference you can feel from the moment you gear up. All wildland firefighter clothing is made with the level of care dedicated servicemen expect. Intuitive features, quality fabrics, and innovation are integrated into every garment for unbeatable form and function that looks as good as it feels.

Want more? Check out our full selection of wildland fire uniforms, or give us a call at 1-800-296-9690 to get your questions answered.