Gauging the Merits of Boots

June 1, 2005
The Wellington (Ohio) Fire District tests work boots and turnout boots from LaCrosse FireTech.

By Lt. Bill Brown, Wellington Fire District

The Gage, a firefighting boot from LaCrosse FireTech, pardon the pun, had large shoes to fill. The previous 2 years, a more commercially available boot has been used throughout the station.

The Gage, at first glance, was a "meatier" boot compared to what we were accustomed to, not only in mass, but also in its overall appearance. By all accounts, the Gage looked like a tank next to a Honda Accord. But since we are firefighters, and we will try anything that is free, we gave the Gage the benefit of the doubt.

When choosing a station duty boot, three primary factors are of importance. Comfort, durability and care of the boot factor highly in our decision-making process prior to purchase.

The Gage, while bulky in appearance, is the most comfortable boot I have worn. While we anticipated a longer break-in time, the Gage simply felt "right" after one day. There absolutely seemed to be a very limited break-in period.

The Gage features full-grain, waterproof and black polishable leather, a GORE-TEX liner, ANSI-certified steel toe, a side-zip and pull-loop and a Quad-Comfort technology system for comfort and arch support. The dual-density TPU outsole is slip-resistant and shock-absorbing for reduced foot fatigue.

Even more apparent, the Gage, which is a higher boot than I am accustomed to, did not leave me feeling like I was unsupported at the end of the day. Usually, after wearing a high boot, ankles can feel unsupported, weak. Throughout my tour, my feet and ankles felt incredibly supported, yet not over-confined. Additionally, there was no fatigue at the end of the day after wearing the Gage.

In terms of durability, the Gage has yet to show any change in its original appearance. These boots have been subjected to numerous outdoor nuisance type calls, such as brush fires, and have performed without flaw. While not subjected to numerous chemicals, the boots have functioned very well in oily situations. On station, our apparatus bays are coated with an abrasive epoxy coating. Daily travel over this surface has not compromised the Gage in any way. When this epoxy-coated floor is extremely wet, previous footwear has been hazardous, in terms of slip hazards. The Gage, while not perfect in preventing a slip, is far ahead of our former footwear choice.

Outside of the station, snow and ice have proven not to be a problem for the Gage. A January ice storm yielded numerous opportunities for slips, without any occurring. Leakage into the boot did not occur, even water up to 6 inches deep.

Finally, care of boot is important in our selection process. Quite frankly, I do not want a boot that I have to polish often. A garden hose and a dry cloth can easily put this boot into pre-wear condition in minutes. If a Marine Corps shine is needed, this is not the boot for you. We have found that even with a commercial boot polish, the Gage just does not take a sparkling shine. This is not a boot to wear with your Class A uniform; it is a work boot.

Maltese Turnout Boots

Traditionally, our department has worn rubber-style turnout boots. Only recently have we begun putting leather boots into our turnout gear specifications. With traditional leather boots, the wearer has a much more comfortable boot, compared to rubber boots. The Maltese, at the very least, had to live up to that expectation from the wearer.

Again, in terms of comfort, the turnout boot is not meant to be a walking shoe. Its function is to protect the firefighter's foot, period. While traditional rubber boots offer a degree of protection, they are still prone to puncture and degradation from chemicals. Traditional leathers offer additional puncture protection and have the added benefit of offering a level of comfort not available with traditional rubbers.

The Maltese, a 10-inch, side-zip, structural and rescue boot that is both NFPA and USAR certified, is made with breathable, fire- and chemical-resistant leather. It features stitchdown construction, a double-layer leather toe cap, a steel toe and 360 degrees of reflective material to provide maximum visibility in low-light conditions.

The Maltese, having the appearance of a nitro-charged work boot, is actually an extremely versatile structural firefighting boot. It is comfortable enough to be worn as a daywear boot. During firefighting operations, the Maltese offered above-average foot and ankle support.

The only downfall with the Maltese is the fact that there is a "learning process" in terms of getting accustomed to this type of turnout boot. Traditional turnout boots required the firefighter to simply step into the boots. The Maltese requires the wearer to step in, then fumble through his turnout pant cuff for the zipper of the boot. However, the bottom line is, the Maltese is quite acceptable as a structural firefighting boot.

In terms of durability, the Maltese, while only seeing limited use, has proven to be far superior to traditional leather boots. There is no comparison between the Maltese and traditional rubber boots; the rubber boots are largely inferior.

Care of the boot, while not as important as a station-wear or uniform boot, is slightly more difficult compared to traditional leather and rubber boots. The rugged construction of the Maltese makes cleanup tougher, with its overlapping, textured leather construction. The boot, when extremely dirty, required a stiff-bristled brush and water to completely clean following use.

For more information about the Gage or Maltese boots from LaCrosse FireTech, visit www.firetechboots.com, or call (800) 557-7246.

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