How Hot Does A Barrel Fire Have To Get For Proper Helmet Crustiness?


I have been very busy.  So in a recent Firehouse Zen post on our Facebook page, I asked what subjects you all might like to read about on FHZ. One popular request was from alert reader Pete, asking “How hot does a barrel fire have to get to make your helmet look really crusty?”

Well, Pete, in answer to your question, I’m not quite sure, having never done that myself before, but I’m sure there’s someone out there who could answer that question for us. But the subject begs another question like “How crusty does someone have to look to you before you feel like they know what they are talking about?” I have found, for example, in the individual with a dozen patches on his or her coat, an inverse relationship between the “advertising” and how much I trust their “experience” on the scene. When I was young, I had the patches. Fortunately, I had some real jakes pull me aside and explain just how squirrely that looked.

If you are a young firefighter (or an old one looking for some real guidance) truly looking for a mentor, instead of looking for who has the nastiest looking gear or the most patches, maybe you should just talk with some of the informal leaders of the group and find out who THEY really respect. Watch their faces when Chief So-and-So speaks: if even these guys are listening and soaking in what is said, then you can trust that they believe that person is a leader. If they look like they’re not paying any attention, chances are the individual may have a title, and may even have the education, but maybe not the street cred to back it up. That kind of observation is much better at judging who’s “been there” than looking at the amount of garbage melted on their lid.

Note the helmet in the picture.  While some of you may understand that the helmet is upside down (to better protect the ratchet system), some of you more insightful ones might wonder why I have an upside-down helmet as my featured photo/logo.  Well, it's because the useful part of the helmet isn't the shell, the truly useful part is the space in which you put your head. So while some of our brothers are obsessing over the proper level of carbon on the hard part up there, what would be a better thing to concentrate on is what is filling the hole, when it comes to deciding who is the best person to look up to.

While taking really good care of your protective ensemble is important, there’s nothing wrong with a little smokiness to show you have been there. But the truth of the matter is that even though someone may LOOK the part, it’s what is under all that crust that really counts. So skip the barrel burnishing and earn your look the old fashioned way; safely but aggressively, taking reasonable risk to save lives, taking a little risk to save property, and none at all for the already lost. Get in there and get it, but don’t be stupid in the process.


  • Marques Bush says:

    Mick absolutely fantastic post. I wish our two post could have come out at the same time. I wrote one a while back about looking salty. Keep up the great work.

  • Tom B. says:

    I thought you were trying to attract a bird’s nest.

  • I’ve always told my coworkers “Character Kills” and dooring up your gear simply tells me you don’t know how to properly maintain your gear.
    Great article.

  • truck6alpha says:

    Well, that’s another reason too. (To Tom. But I guess it could be to Justin’s comment too.)

  • M. Mayes says:

    Nice read. In our house if anyone “smokes” their helmet on purpose, it earns you a afternoon of cleaning your helmet. In fact all of our gear is kept very clean. The only part of your helmet that can show wear is your shield. Being salty is about the firefighter, not his gear. Salty is an attitude about the job. In fact our old salts have the cleanest gear and rigs, because they understand the importance of readiness.

  • Jeff Betz says:

    It’s rather amusing that you would touch on this topic Mick. I just saw a Facebook profile of a friend of mine, who proudly changed his profile picture to that of his new “Captain” helmet. I gave him a low-key congrats, then provided him with some knowledge from an “old fire dude”. I told him it’s not about the helmet, it’s about the head inside the helmet, and what he does for the job”. I thought I might be taken as rude, but the young man thanked me on his page for “such a great comment”.

  • Pete says:

    Chief, I really didn’t expect you to post on this-I was just joking on your FB page!

  • fm114fd says:

    Guilty as charged… I once “seasoned” my leather in an RV we packed with about a year’s worth of hay and lit up. It looked ugly, all shiny and new. I have a fair amount of years in the profession, and I didn’t want to look like the ‘probie’ to all the trainees coming through our academy. Bad choice. I still regret it.

    It seems the more swagger the ‘kids’ coming through the academy have, the more mouth on them, the less they actually know about the job. I’m crystal clear on where I went wrong, and glad to have learned from the mistake. As always, Mick, you put in words all of the things we heathens are thinking. Thanks for another great post, and an eloquent use of the english language.

    Stay safe, take care of each other, and take care of the job.
    In that order.

  • truck6alpha says:


    Thanks for reading. We’re all guilty of youthful stupidity at some point, like the patches I spoke about. I thank God for keeping me alive through some of my more memorable moments.

    I think as far as swagger goes, we do that to these guys and girls as well. They see our swagger and want to be like us. Problem is, we earned ours.

    Thanks again


  • Sn33kR - 2Truck - TFD says:

    Good post, looking “salty” is also more dangerous to you. Our gear is designed to protect us from the heat, but if it is dirty, (salty??)it doesn’t protect us like it designed to and may keep you and your partner from getting it done. I totally agree with the concept of “see who everyone else listens to”. If they trust him…….you probably should too.

  • Pete says:

    No, it IS funny! But it is sad that points like these have to be made.

    Another great post.

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