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April 30, 2018

Over the years, firefighting boots have evolved into a highly important part of a firefighter’s gear. No longer are they just an afterthought, but instead, they are a specifically designed piece of equipment that are equally important as any other piece of PPE (personal protection equipment).

Fire boots are the connection between a firefighter and the ground, therefore no matter the task, they are essential to a firefighter’s duties and responsibilities.

Modern day fire boots are designed using the latest materials (leather, rubber, and composites) and construction techniques to provide both functionality as well as superior protection from all of the potential hazards that come with firefighting.

Both of those elements—functionality and protection—should be taken into consideration when choosing the right pair of fire boots.

There are three distinct types of footwear for firefighters:

  • Station boots – Boots that are worn around the fire station or on non-emergency calls.
  • Bunker (Turn-out) boots – Boots that are worn for urban-style firefighting calls.
  • Wildland boots – Boots that are worn in more rural, wilderness, and rough terrain firefighting calls.

In this article, we’re going to focus on how to shop for bunker boots. Let’s start below with requirements and standards.

Requirements and standards

We won’t bore you with the details here, but you should be aware that OSHA (Occupational Health and Safety Administration) Regulation 1910.136 says that employers must provide footwear that meets certain specifications for those whose job exposes them to potential foot injury from hazards of the job like falling or piercing objects and exposed electrical hazards.

Certain standards like the ASTM F2413 cover the minimum requirements for the design, testing, performance and classification of protective footwear, which includes testing of the toecap of a boot to determine the amount of force that can safely be applied to it before injury occurs.

Most modern fire boots meet these requirements and standards, but the OSHA and ASTM standards should be consulted to ensure compliance before choosing a pair.

Factors to consider

As mentioned earlier, fire boots aren’t simply an article of clothing you throw on as an afterthought. They can and should do many things for you, including:

  • Keep your feet dry and warm
  • Protect your feet and legs from hazards, including falling objects
  • Protect your feet from hazardous materials, chemicals, and bodily fluids
  • Provide dexterity to be agile enough to allow for physically demanding work

To craft a boot that meets these expectations and requirements is challenging for manufacturers, who spend a lot of their time researching and testing the latest technologies, including looking to the athletic footwear industry for ideas and inspiration on how to combine comfort and performance.

Performance and comfort

When you hear the term performance in relation to footwear, you may think athletic sneakers, running shoes, or basketball high tops, but fire boots must also perform at a high level by not only protecting you from a variety of hazards, but also permitting you to be agile and comfortable while maintaining stability.

A good pair of fire boots should fit securely without causing chafing or blisters. Comfort is key. Anyone who spends a good deal of time on their feet knows that if your feet are happy, it makes doing the job a lot easier, while also reducing the risk of injury from overcompensating to deal with any discomfort.

When it comes to performance, a key attribute is ankle support. You want a fire boot that will alleviate potential injuries which can occur when stepping on uneven surfaces and rough terrain.

Ankle strains and sprains are a major cause of “lost-time injuries” for firefighters, so finding a boot with the right amount of ankle support puts you ahead in the game.

Toecaps – steel or composite

Steel-toe boots have been around a long time (invented at the end of World War II) and most people are familiar with them and trust them to provide excellent toe protection. Composite-toe boots are constructed from a combination of materials like polymers (synthetic materials), which make them lighter than steel, that being their main advantage.

Composite-toe boots feature comparable strength, but can often be as much as 30% lighter than steel. Another advantage of composite is that they don’t conduct heat like steel, which means more heat is kept within the boot, a definite positive for keeping your feet warm during cold, winter months.

Both are designed to protect your toes from falling or piercing objects, and both do an excellent job of this.

Rubber vs Leather

The traditional, old-school fire boot was always a rubber boot. However, boot materials and construction have advanced so that now many firefighters prefer a leather fire boot over the traditional rubber style.

First, leather boots are lighter than rubber boots, sometimes by as much as two-and-a-half pounds lighter. Heavier boots can lead to tripping and a quicker loss of energy, thus making you more injury prone as a result.

Leather boots are constructed using cemented or stitched soles, with cement construction being the more flexible of the two. Flexibility in the sole is good because the more give in the sole, the less energy you’re consuming when walking, therefore staving off fatigue for as long as possible.

However, rubber boots should not be completely discounted because they also have many positives that firefighters appreciate.

Rubber boots are easier to quickly pull on in an emergency, high-stress situation. If you’re relaxing in the station and the alarm sounds, you’ll appreciate the speed in which you are able to dress and be out the door. Additionally, they are naturally waterproof and can often be more durable than leather.

Rubber boots are also quite a bit less expensive than leather boots, often up to two times less which is helpful if you’re shelling out the cash for your own gear. And traditionalists will appreciate that rubber boots exude that firefighting history and tradition, having been around since the 1930s.

Cost vs Quality

When shopping for fire boots, you may find yourself thinking where can I find a high-quality pair of boots without breaking the bank. As you weigh the decision between cost vs quality, consider that with fire boots, as with most products, you usually get what you pay for.

Skimping on quality for comparatively minor cost savings in the short term could end up costing you more in the long term. Investing in a high quality pair of boots now means you probably won’t have to replace them as often. Not only that, but more importantly, choosing a high quality pair will give you the confidence that your boots are providing the safety and protection you need and deserve.

What pair of boots is right for you?

The single most important factor to consider is comfort and fit. You must find the right fit to ensure comfort and safety. Remember, there’s no single right fit for everyone, and you should try on several pair to determine what feels best on your feet.

To help you decide, it may be wise to read reviews on the boots you’re interested in, reading closely for how reviewers describe the fit – are they too tight, too loose, does the boot fit to size, is it heavy or light, what kind of ankle support does it provide?

Many boot manufacturers have created evaluation protocols to help you assess which boot is right for you. Even though these are not standardized protocols across manufacturers, they can be a useful tool in making your decision.

Below is a checklist of factors, characteristics, and attributes to keep in mind when choosing a pair of fire boots.

  • Comfort
  • Fit
  • Weight
  • Durability
  • Flexibility
  • Performance
  • Slip resistance
  • Protection
  • Contamination resistance
  • Breathability
  • Ease of putting on
  • Cost

Here at CHIEF Supply, we have a wide selection from which to choose. Check out our most popular boots below.

Thorogood 14” Structural Leather Bunker Boot

  • Meets necessary requirements
  • Made in the U.S.A.
  • Steel Triple Ladder Shank
  • Flexible
  • Superior comfort featuring Goodyear Storm Welt Construction
  • Waterproof
  • Flame resistant

Total Fire Group 16” Insulated Rubber Boot

  • NFPA 1992 certified
  • Lightweight rubber boot
  • Kevlar®/Nomex® lining
  • Shin guard for additional ladder-rung shin protection
  • Steel toe
  • Excellent impact and puncture protection

Haix Fire Hunter USA Fire Boots

  • Made in the U.S.A.
  • Waterproof, leather boot
  • Budget-friendly
  • Composite toe
  • Patented HAIX Climate System promotes breathability and ventilation
  • Superior ankle support via anatomically-formed TEXON foot bed

Fire-Dex Rubber Fire Boot

  • Rubber shin guard
  • Reinforced heel
  • Moisture-wicking wool liner
  • Puncture-resistant midsole
  • Steel shank
  • Steel toe
  • Contoured heel cup for reduced heel slippage


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