Tools & Technologies: Firefighter Turnout Gear: Why Is Fit Important?

Mark Mordecai and Pat Freeman explain why the days of building turnout gear that fits a "normal" range of firefighters are over.


• Pants waist. Turnout pants aren’t like a regular pair of pants because they fit over your pants, so your turnout waist size likely will be two or more inches larger than that of your street pants. Your “waist” measurement also depends on the height of the pants up from the crotch – called the front rise – and where you like to wear your pants. For example, turnout pants with a shorter front rise sit below your actual waist and need to be a little wider because they sit down closer to your hips. Many men with a “front porch” wear their pants lower (“under the porch”), so although they have a larger waist measurement, their turnout pants are actually worn at a point that is narrower than if they pulled the pants up around their belly. If your turnout pants have an integrated belt, how and where you secure this belt affects where the pants ride on you. There’s no substitute for trying on the pants in the correct style to determine the waist size that works for you.

• Pants shape. In turnout pants – where added length and fullness are needed to do your job without restriction – you need options to fit your body properly, just as you do when you choose a pair of jeans. Most firefighters will choose a relaxed fit for maximum mobility. Squat down when you try on the pants: Is there excess fabric in the seat? If not, going trimmer will restrict your movement. If so, and you’re trimmer in the waist, seat and thigh, you’ll likely find a regular fit (that has added length, but less fullness) will be ample and less baggy. Again, as every turnout pant style is different, there is no substitute for trying them on.

• Pants inseam. There are two opposing schools of thoughts concerning the length of the pants:

1. You should wear your pants a little longer so that they don’t ride up over the top of your boots when you step up and crawl.

2. If the pants are too long, you will end up stepping on the cuffs and causing premature wear.

The best answer is to buy turnout pants that don’t ride up, and then you can order your pants a little shorter. Shorter pants don’t get stepped on or dragged through the muck. Once again, this is very style-specific, so try them on.

• Jacket chest. Chest measurement is about your chest circumference and your shoulders as well. Added length is needed across the back of the shoulders to let your arms work in front of you without restriction. If there are horizontal lines across the shoulders in the back when you cross your arms in front, the jacket is too snug and you may be more likely to experience compression burns. If there are vertical creases when you cross your arms, the jacket may be too loose and you may feel that it is bulky in the front of the chest and under the arms.

• Jacket length. Most departments specify a standard back length for everyone in the department, as if everyone were the same size. However, if the jacket is too short, the overlap with the pants will not provide adequate protection. If the jacket is too long, it’s in your way when sitting down or stepping up, and you can’t get into your turnout pants pockets easily. Although taller people generally have longer torsos and shorter people shorter torsos, this is not always the case.

Jacket length is like every other dimension of fit: You need a range of different lengths to fit different size people, not one stock length for every firefighter.

• Jacket shape. Most jackets are cut straight in the body, from the underarm to the bottom hem; i.e., the circumference of the jacket around the chest is the same as that around the bottom hem. Some turnout gear is tapered, with less material around your waist and hips as compared to the chest. So which shape will fit you?

First, consider whether you are planning to wear a seat harness (internal or external), a rope pouch or any other equipment around your waist beneath your jacket. If so, be sure to have this equipment in place on your pants when you try on your jacket. You’ll need the jacket to slide freely or it may get hung up over the equipment and compromise your protection.

Next, think about your body type. Even after you have selected the right chest size for you, if the shape of your jacket isn’t right for you, the jacket will feel too bulky or too snug around the middle. Are you a man with an athletic build (i.e., a larger chest and shoulders and narrower waist and hip) or are you a woman who is trimmer in the hips? If so, you would benefit from a tapered jacket. Or are you a man with a stocky build with ample waist and hips, or a woman with fuller hips? If so, a straight shape jacket might be a better fit for you.

• Jacket sleeve. A jacket that has added length in the underarm with a sleeve length that falls to your wrist bone will let you reach without restriction, and without having the cuffs drop down too low over your gloves. When choosing sleeve length, it is important that the cuff falls at the wrist in the location that best meets your needs, while providing complete interface with your gloves – but there’s more to the story.