Try This On: How to Properly Size Bunker Gear

Advice for finding your fit from Fire-Dex 

By Todd Herring, V.P. of Product Innovation and Strategy, Fire-Dex

As a firefighter, you work in dynamic environments and need gear that allows you to perform to your optimal ability. Selecting new turnout gear and composites for your department is a crucial decision that can improve your crew’s safety and performance. And no matter what gear you might be sizing up, accurately sizing each ensemble will ensure a proper fit that provides the best mobility and protection for the person wearing it.

There is much to consider when making a purchase that can impact your department for years to come. The following advice can help you take correct measurements head-to-toe when outfitting firefighters for new garments.

Sizing Your Crew

If trial gear or direct assistance is not available from your equipment supplier, Fire-Dex recommends the following methods for sizing your crew. Be sure to have a good tape measure on hand as well as a Brannock Device® for measuring footwear. Also, be sure to record all information using a checklist for consistency.

All measurements should be taken with the person’s arms at their sides in an “at ease” stance and with station wear on. Also, when measuring for one manufacturer’s gear, never use a different manufacturer’s methods as even slight variations between gear and sizing instructions can add up to serious problems when equipment does not fit like a glove.

Your gear supplier can help you ensure a quality fit; explain the latest technologies and answer questions your crew may have.

Taking extra care with your measurements and checking twice is always the best starting place for your sizing activity. Adhere to these guidelines for both men and women:  

Chest: Measure loosely over clothing around the fullest part of the chest and below the arms with arms at rest. For broad shoulders or muscled arms and/or back, an over-the-T-shirt arm/chest measurement is helpful. As a common practice, add four inches to your measurement.

Pro tip: If an individual’s midsection is considerably larger than their chest you should document these differences when ordering gear. A coat measuring 46 inches on the top and bottom, for instance, may not comfortably fit a person having a larger-size abdomen. Fire-Dex gives customers the option to increase the hem and sleeve area of their coat up to a ten inch differential of the chest size.

Bust (females only): Measure over clothing, around the fullest part of the bust, and below the arms with arms at rest.

Sleeve: Measure sleeve lengths from the middle of the back, from the vertebrae at the base of the neck, over the shoulder to the point on the hand that is required (generally to the thumb crotch). Longer is usually recommended for better protection. Do not bend the arms.

Pro tip: For individuals with particularly large hands and/or forearms, a wider cuff can make it much easier to insert one’s arms through the sleeves.

Waist: Waist is measured at the point where pants will be worn. Add four inches for pants to normal waist size. Bigger is usually better for fit and comfort. The inside of the pants, at the waist, will measure the dimension you place on the order (32 inches, 34 inches, etc.).

Pro tip: For individuals with a waist size greater than 40 inches, be extra mindful of how bunker pants fit over the hip and thigh area. For example, a stout, muscular person with a narrow waist might have trouble finding a comfortable position while wearing typical-size pants. In such cases, the pant area can be opened to minimize any such restriction.

Hips (females only): Measure at the widest point.

Inseam: Measure from the crotch seam (inside leg) to the top of the ankle. For baggy pants, be sure to pull the crotch up tight before taking your measurement. Inseam is measured from the crotch to the point on the foot that is required. For better fit and comfort, choose a shorter length than you usually wear. The standard inseam is 28 inches to 30 inches. This is appropriate for anyone between 5’9” and 6’2.” For inseams 33 inches to 36 inches, add 10%; for 37 inches and up, add 20% to shell and liner.

Suspenders: Suspenders are measured from the rear suspender post over the top of the shoulder to the front suspender post. Correct-rise pants and rear bib size need to be used.

Pro tip: Often firefighters wear their suspenders too high, which in turn pulls the bunker pant up too high. Crew should resist the urge to “crank up” one’s suspenders—a lower fit is typically preferred.

Gloves: The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) quick reference chart is a helpful guide for sizing structural fire gloves. It breaks down how NFPA sizes compare to most standard glove sizes:

STANDARD SIZING

XS   SM   MD   LG   XL   2XL

NFPA SIZING

70N   70W   76N   76W   82N   82W

If you do not already have one, your gear supplier can provide
a measurement guide for capturing people’s sizes and data.

Boots: Use a Brannock Device to take the most accurate measurement (do not automatically assume one’s boot size based on their response alone).

More to Know

Fire-Dex has sized gear for some of the country’s largest departments and knows what it takes to quickly find the right fit so crews aren’t tied down for long. These practical steps can help ensure a good experience for everyone involved:

  • Remember this may be the first time a person has been sized. Individuals can be apprehensive about what to expect. Measuring is a hands-on process that can make some people feel uncomfortable. Put people at ease by explaining the process in advance and consider having both a female and male participant on hand to take measurements.
  • Instruct your crew to come dressed in typical station wear and not just for that day but with changes of clothes for all four seasons, from t-shirts and shorts to sweatshirts and blue jeans, also including socks and belts (even smartphones and other tools commonly carried in pockets). This will help ensure a fit that doesn’t feel too tight or too roomy as the weather changes.
  • Explain there is no room for vanity sizing when measuring for bunker gear. While you should never argue with participants about their measurements, it is important to assert how accuracy is essential to providing the best mobility and protection possible.  
  • Always error on the side of being an inch too long on your inseam or sleeve; never error on the short side. For instance, when a firefighter stores their gear by placing the pant cuff over their boot, an artificial shortening of the bunker pant can eventually occur due to the fabric becoming wrinkled and kinked. A shorter measurement can result in ensembles that do not provide adequate overlapping protection in vulnerable areas.

 

Try Before You Buy

Of course, experiencing the fit and flexibility of new bunker gear firsthand is the best way to know if it is sized properly and meets your expectations. Arranging a wear trial—often with the support of a manufacturer like Fire-Dex—will help you make the most informed choice. It is important to understand each element of a composite system when selecting and sizing turnout gear—working closely with a knowledgeable supplier can make it much easier to fit your crew, develop options for your specifications, incorporate feedback, prepare information for committee review, and secure approvals.

Accurate bunker gear measurements are critical for the moments when every move counts

If you are sizing gear for other purposes such as for new training fatigues or to replace just a few garments, a direct head-to-head comparison of two or three sets of equipment from different manufacturers can produce a timely decision that pulls in fewer company resources compared to a formal wear trial. It is advisable, however, to still reach out to these manufacturers who can make sure you have everything needed to conduct a thorough evaluation.

Fire departments not in a position to commit time and personnel to a gear trial may endeavor to learn about recent evaluations conducted by other local departments. While every department differs in the services provided to the people who perform them, the data and insights surfaced by a comprehensive wear trial have the benefits departments with similar needs when it comes to protecting life and property. By leveraging comparable testing as a baseline for decision-making, departments can streamline the process and reduce administrative costs.

Bear in mind the prudent decision will be the result of many factors—departments that use similar tactics to respond to emergencies should be clear and candid in discussing their research and do so before any type of purchase commitment. Also do not hesitate to take your questions or concerns directly to the manufacturers being evaluated.

Fire gear that fits properly is better able to protect the wearer as intended. When sizing your crew for all-new equipment or simply outfitting your newest team member, be sure to measure accurately per the manufacturer’s specific instructions. And given the opportunity, it is wise to work with your gear supplier to arrange a wear trial that takes not just sizing but many other considerations into account. Doing so can directly benefit your crew’s safety and performance.

Find more sizing resources and useful information at FireDex.com

Todd Herring began his journey at Fire-Dex in September 2015 as part of the acquisition of TECGEN. With over 20 years of experience in the protective textile industry, Todd was soon promoted to Director of Marketing and Product Development in August 2016. Gaining the title of Vice President of Product Innovation and Strategy in 2021, Todd currently leads the newly created Product Innovation and Strategy team. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Textile Engineering from NC State University.

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