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Getting the Boots

For wading around near a chemical spill, most firefighters wear rubber boots. Unhappily.

While rubber boots can be decontaminated, they’re often slippery and uncomfortable, leaving first responders longing for leather boots. The problem, of course, is that leather absorbs liquids.

A firefighter tries out a new HazMat boot during simulations in the College of Textiles.

A firefighter tries out a new HazMat boot during simulations in the College of Textiles.

Dr. Roger Barker wants to combine the best of both boots, using new textile materials and surface treatments to make leather boots that can be used for fighting fires and responding to HazMat calls.

“We’ve been exploring options like providing a finish to the leather that would reduce chemical absorption while making it easy to clean and decontaminate,” Barker says. “So we’re not just creating a leather HazMat boot, we’re also designing a simple cleaning method.”

The Department of Defense is supporting the research at the Textile Protection and Comfort Center with an $800,000 homeland security grant.

Firefighters are putting prototype boots through their paces, checking comfort, ergonomics, traction and stability as they climb stairs and perform simulated rescues.

Independent laboratories will evaluate and certify a final prototype to National Fire Protection Association standards so that companies can bring it to market.

Responses (3 Comments)

  • mike

    As a volunteer firefighter here in my local town, I am also so NOT impressed with the rubber boots, they are uncomfortable.

    800k for prototype boots seems like A LOT, and very expensive as technology has an abundance of products in labs that can be implemented immediately to make the new firefighter boots.

    In the long run though, the boots will only help myself and other firefighters in my opinion.

    Good article, thanks.

  • Will Dressler

    I was a NBC (Nuke Bio Chem) Weapons Defense Expert in the USMC.
    The old boots that we used in MOP-4 were nothing more than a 3mil rubber tube with old tire tread fused to the bottom. They were absolutely worthless and in an emergency you would probably get killed just trying to put them on.
    I always wanted to see some sort of tread that had the small spikes or cleats in them. Now that would be great for traction, just not the hard woods!
    I’d like to see what the geeks in the lab ultimately come up with.

    Thanks for the article.

  • What will a pair of these boots end up costing? Sounds very expensive to produce!

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