ST. PETERSBURG — A group of retired and active firefighters have sued the maker and distributor of their city-issued helmets, saying design flaws have led to injury.
The five firefighters say the helmets they were given a few years ago, the 1044 Cairns model manufactured by Pennsylvania-based Mine Safety Appliance Co. and distributed by Bradenton-based Ten-8 Fire Equipment Inc., were designed poorly and caused neck and head injuries.
"The problem with the design is that they're heavier than the other helmets, and they're not as balanced," said New Port Richey attorney Jim Magazine, who likened the situation to top-heavy bobblehead toys. "This helmet's a recipe for disaster."
The firefighters filed their product liability claim in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court. Their employer, the city of St. Petersburg, is not a party to the suit. Magazine said that's because the city would have had to have knowledge that the helmets were defective.
Yet this week, fire Chief Jim Large said he has heard no complaints about that specific helmet model.
Large said the helmets are used now by about 90 percent of firefighters at the department.
"We're not changing out any 1044 Cairns," Large said. "We're not testing new helmets."
An attorney for Mine Safety Appliances did not return a call this week. Mark Garrison, a Tampa attorney representing Ten-8, declined to comment.
Retired firefighter Scott Crowell was the first to file suit about the helmets in 2013. He said a helmet he got three years earlier caused neck injuries.
Back then, Crowell was represented in part by Rick Kriseman, elected mayor that same year.
On Tuesday, city spokesman Ben Kirby said the mayor would have no comment on the lawsuit.
The other firefighters — Francis Thomas, Gregory Harvin, Christopher Henderson and retiree Robert Henderson — filed their suits this month.
The firefighters say the helmets are uneven and cause musculoskeletal injuries. They said the problem came with helmets the city issued from 2010 on.
Large said the department did switch from "Philadelphia-style" helmets to "New York-style" ones that year. The differences, he said, are subtle. From some angles, the former one looks more rounded.
Large also said it's not uncommon for the department to change vendors while keeping the same essential model. "If it meets our needs and it's cheaper, we're going to try to be fiscally judicious," Large said.
For instance, just a few months ago, a new vendor got a contract to provide helmets. They are also "New York-style" helmets and look similar to the 1044 Cairns. New hires, firefighters whose helmets have been damaged, or those who have helmets older than 10 years will be first to get them.
Magazine said he expects more firefighters to come forward because they believe this is not just a problem with a batch of 1044 Cairns helmets.
"The model these guys got is a bad model," Magazine said. "We believe this is going to be a nationwide case."
Contact Kameel Stanley at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643. Follow @cornandpotatoes.