What Are Search & Rescue Helmets Made Of?

There’s more to search and rescue helmets than meets the eye. In fact, these life-saving pieces of equipment are made of a variety of materials, each chosen for its specific properties. From the sturdy outer shell to the comfortable padding inside, every element of a search and rescue helmet has a purpose. So, what are these helmets made of?

The History of Search & Rescue Helmets

The history of search and rescue helmets dates back to the early 20th century when the first firefighters began using them to protect their heads from falling debris. In the years since, these helmets have evolved to become an essential piece of safety gear for firefighters, police officers, and other first responders.

Today, there are several different types of search and rescue helmets on the market, each designed to provide different levels of protection.

The Materials Used in Search & Rescue Helmets

Some of the most popular materials used in the construction of search and rescue helmets include Kevlar, carbon fiber, and polycarbonate. Kevlar is a strong synthetic fiber that is often used in bulletproof vests and other body armor. Carbon fiber is an extremely strong yet lightweight material that is often used in the construction of racing car bodies and aircraft components.

Polycarbonate is lightweight, yet tough enough to protect against impact. The helmet’s shell is usually reinforced with a series of internal foam panels. These help to absorb energy in the event of an impact and protect the wearer’s head from injury. Some helmets also feature a mesh visor, which can help to protect the wearer’s face from debris.

Search and rescue helmets are usually outfitted with a number of different features, such as visors, face shields, ventilation systems, and radio headsets. These features help ensure that first responders have the minimum amount of exposure to hazardous materials while still being able to see and communicate clearly.

The visor can also be useful for keeping out bright lights, such as those used in search and rescue operations. Helmets used in search and rescue operations need to be tough enough to withstand impact and provide protection from the elements, while also being comfortable enough to wear for long periods of time.

The materials used in search and rescue helmets need to strike this balance in order to provide the best possible protection for those who need it most.

The Manufacturing Process of Search & Rescue Helmets

Kevlar is a synthetic fiber that’s five times stronger than steel on an equal-weight basis. Kevlar helmets are usually made by layering sheets of Kevlar over each other and then bonding them together with an adhesive. The number of layers depends on the level of protection required. For example, a helmet that needs to protect against bullets would have more layers than one that’s only designed to protect against shocks and impacts.

Polycarbonate is another type of material that’s often used in the manufacturing of search and rescue helmets. It’s a clear, tough plastic that’s often used as an alternative to glass in bulletproof windows and windshields. Polycarbonate helmets are usually made by injection molding, which is a process where molten polycarbonate is injected into a mold that’s shaped like the desired helmet. The polycarbonate then cools and hardens inside the mold.

Fiberglass is another common material used in the making of search and rescue helmets. It’s strong, lightweight and inexpensive, making it a good choice for many applications. Fiberglass helmets are usually made by layering sheets of fiberglass cloth over each other and then bonding them together with an adhesive or resin. The number of layers depends on the level of protection required.

Finally, some manufacturers use expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam as the primary material in their helmets. EPS foam is commonly used in bicycle helmets and skateboard helmets because it’s very good at absorbing impact energy. EPS foam isn’t as strong as polycarbonate or Kevlar, so it’s not often used by itself in search and rescue helmets. However, it can be layered with other materials to create a helmet shell that has excellent impact protection without being too heavy or bulky.

Once the helmet shell has been created, it needs to be lined with padding to make it comfortable to wear and to help absorb shocks and impacts. The padding is usually made from foam or other similar materials. In some cases, the helmet shell might also be covered with a layer of fabric for additional protection or for aesthetic reasons.

The Safety Features of Search & Rescue Helmets

When every second counts, search and rescue (SAR) professionals need the best protection possible. That’s why they rely on helmets that are specifically designed for their dangerous line of work. SAR helmets are usually made of high-strength plastic or composite material, which can withstand heavy impacts.

Most SAR helmets also feature an array of built-in safety features, such as:

  • A bright LED light for improved visibility in low-light conditions.
  • A quick-release chin strap for easy on/off.
  • Reflective stripes or panels for increased visibility.
  • Ventilation holes to keep the head cool during long hours in hot weather.

They also have a reinforced brim to protect the wearer from debris, and an integrated visor to shield the eyes from the sun and other bright lights.

The Advantages of Search & Rescue Helmets

There are many different types of helmets that are used in search and rescue operations, and each has its own advantages. What makes search and rescue helmets so advantageous is due to the materials used in their construction, and how they perform when fitted properly. Materials such as kevlar, fiberglass, and polycarbonate make search and rescue helmets very good at resisting heat, and impacts and are also lightweight.

The Disadvantages of Search & Rescue Helmets

Although search and rescue helmets protect wearers from a variety of dangers, they have some disadvantages. For example, they are often bulky and cumbersome, making it difficult for wearers to move quickly and efficiently. Additionally, the helmets can be hot and uncomfortable to wear for extended periods of time.

In Closing

Even with some disadvantages, search and rescue helmets are better worn by first responders than not. And with so many models and accessories to choose from, picking the right search and rescue helmet for your safety needs is entirely probable.

NEXT UP: Top 20 Search & Rescue Helmet Manufacturers

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Rebecca Ross
About Rebecca Ross

Rebecca Ross an Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) consultant who runs her own occupational safety consultancy. She focuses on hazardous materials, warehouse safety, fire safety, lab safety, fall protection, head protection and other workplace safety topics. Learn more about Rebecca here or connect with her on Twitter | LinkedIn | Medium