The Wrong Boots

It’s not like I didn’t know. 

Beside the fact that our standards for protective fire gear (including boots) are very clear, I’d actually had trouble once before.  When I was taking a fire training course in South Carolina, I was mopping up the remains of a controlled burn when I noticed that my feet were getting really warm.  Looking down, I realized that the heat from the smoldering pine needles I was walking through was melting the soles of my boots.  That was my first lesson in why wearing the right boots (with Vibram soles, for example) is important.

Despite my previous experience, when I arrived at the aftermath of the big wildfire on the Niobrara River a couple weeks ago, I hopped out of the truck, donned my Nomex shirt, helmet, and leather gloves, and went to work.  …I should have changed boots.  About 20 minutes later, I was spraying water on some hot coals when I noticed that the front of the sole on my left boot was flapping.  That’s odd, I thought – these boots aren’t that old… 

Within about two minutes, the sole of my left boot had come off completely, and the right one was gone by the time I hobbled out of the hot spot I was mopping up.  Apparently, the adhesive that held the soles on my boots wasn’t designed for the kind of heat I had just been standing in.

The remains of my boots. I never did find the other sole.

I walked gingerly back to the truck and got the boots I should have been wearing in the first place.  Anybody want to buy some used boots?


About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.
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8 Responses to The Wrong Boots

  1. troymullens says:

    Yup. Nothing better than the right shoe (boot, hiking shoe, etc.)

  2. Ronnie Sanchez says:

    Thanks for sharing this. Some folks believe that some safety regulations/equipment are not necessary or overly burdensome. The results in this instance, other then losing a pair of shoes, could have been much worse.

  3. melmannphoto says:

    Guess Gore-Tex wouldn’t be of much use here….

  4. Being a letter carrier I learned lessons real fast. I know about this stuff. Bet you don’t do it again.

  5. Jameson says:

    White’s Boots are good.

    I’m trying a pair of Thorogood Wildland boots.

    The high price of high quality fire boots is cheap compared to burns on your feet.

  6. ndjmom says:

    My daughter’s soles melted apart when she marched in the Memorial Day parade in Washington DC last year. It was over 100F heat index and the parade was 3 miles long. They had been on the blacktop for almost 3 hours. Didn’t quite believe shoes would do this, but I guess it’s right. Hopefully you will get new boots. Sit these on a fencepost.

  7. Jameson says:

    The one thing that always makes me nervous when I am on a Rx burn, is seeing people wear cowboy boots. The majority of mass-produced cowboy boots today have laminated soles and they’ll flop right off in low-moderate intensity burns.

  8. Mark Welsch says:

    Shoe-Goo might glue those soles back onto your boots. At around $7 that is a lot cheaper than a new pair of boots. I think you can get it at Ace Hardware.


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