Customizing a Retro Fire Helmet

Something Old Into Something New & Arty
… An old 1950’s Fireman’s Helmet/Hat

The 50’s Fireman’s Hat that I selected:

I was checking the latest local news online on May 30, 2010 at, when I came upon a unique opportunity for local artists to paint on a fireman’s helmet for a fundraiser. This will be an auction for the new Kelowna Fire Museum and Education Centre. The city of Kelowna is located in the beautiful Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, Canada. People can bid on these one of a kind items. Bidding will start online when a few of the artists complete their fire helmet. Bidding will start at $200. Information about the artist will be posted with their finished helmet. Artists interested in painting a helmet can contact Ms. Miller at 250 717-3473.

The Auction will be online soon!

Before I share the customizing of my fireman’s hat, here is a little history about the new Kelowna Fire Museum and Education Centre – 2009 reference article from and


The historic Water Street Firehouse:
A new home will soon be open for the Kelowna Fire Museum & Education Centre.

The new location for the museum will soon be opening its doors in downtown Kelowna, next to the historic Water Street firehouse.Brian Moore, of the Friends of the Kelowna Fire Museum Society, says they are thrilled with the location. “We can’t wait to get up and running to showcase our memorabilia and educate people on how to reduce the risk of unintentional injuries,” says Moore. He says the 10,000 square foot building at 1630 Water Street was originally built for Kelowna Motors in 1950.“The August family, which has a long association with the city and the original Kelowna Fire Brigade for over 60 years, has made the property available.” Regarding their relationship with the fire department, Brian and Gary August say when their father came to Kelowna in 1945, he became a volunteer fire fighter and actually lived at the Water Street Fire Hall until he was married in 1947.“His relationship with the Fire Department continued and he became Deputy Chief of the volunteer fire fighters. Many employees of Kelowna Motors were also volunteer fire fighters and there were many times when a fire would occur and most of the employees would leave to fight the fire, with only a skeleton staff remaining to operate Kelowna Motors.”Once the required plans and permits are in place, renovation work will begin with a planned opening during August this year. The Museum and Education Centre will be made possible through a combination of volunteer labour, donations and fund raising. The Friends of the Kelowna Fire Museum Society is in the process of launching a volunteer recruitment program and fund raising campaign.The Museum’s collection includes a fully restored 1928 Graham ladder truck, a 1961 American LaFrance pumper, chemical wagon, hose wagon, a Gamewell pull box alarm system and many other artifacts showcasing 100 years of service to the citizens of Kelowna.The Firehouse Kitchen Coffee Shop will be a great spot to stop for a beverage and light snack. All proceeds from the Firehouse Kitchen are used to fund the Museum and Education Centre Operations.

A Tag inside this helmet states “HARD BOILED” trademark of E. D. Bullard Company, Sausalito, Calif. Adjustable Size 6 1/2 – 7 5/8
The Existing Fireman’s Hat:

The first thing I did was remove the old cloth and leather head liner within the hat. It was very dirty. I also decided I did not need it as the hat would no longer be functional. It will become a display art piece.

There were no major dents or scuffs on the helmet, so I cleaned the helmet with dish soap and then lightly sanded it with a fine wet and dry sandpaper. I believe the helmet is actually fabricated/molded from fiberglass material.


I wanted my design to be fun, but fire-related. Representing how fire personnel daily, as first responders, attend to a variety of emergency needs in our community. And to give thanks!

Concept, Fabrication & Painting:

In our area there have been some nasty auto accidents lately. The accidents being recently ‘in the back my mind’, led me to see the area between the fire helmet’s distinct three ridges as roadways or a highway. Our need to be cautious, alert, drive safely, and obey the rules of the road. Fire personnel are often the first responders to auto collisions.

I made a trip to the local plaza’s Dollar Store, where I found a ‘made in China’ package of 6 automobiles/cars with two bonus roadway cones for the cost of $1.50. I also was looking for a small fire truck. Over in the birthday gift wrap section of the store I found a small ‘made in China’ plastic fire truck and an ambulance whistle for 75 cents. Wow! …now I’m broke!

I used my scale modeling spray booth that I made a couple of years ago, to give the fire helmet two coats of White Acrylic Primer for Plastic, and a coat of Satin White Acrylic Paint.

The six autos were placed randomly on the ‘roads’, the position noted, and then the surface scraped a bit for adhesion. I applied a big blob of ‘no more nails’ in a construction caulking tube to the vehicles bottom and then placed the vehicles. I cleaned up any access with a metal palette knife and Q-tips.

The two other vehicles, the fire truck and ambulance had rectangular plastic mouth whistles on the back side, so I drilled holes through the hat in my desired position. Filed the hole square to fit in tightly the rectangular whistle part.

Then they were pushed through the hat’s surface. No More Nails was applied on the hat’s inside for securing, and a clean caulking bead was applied to the outside.

Once all the vehicles were applied, they were also primed in White Acrylic.

I took a break and went online to do a little research on fire helmets. I looked up the Kelowna Fire Dept. to see if they had a logo or crest. I also looked at other things such as fire rescue’s history, their vehicles, their tools. I also made a list of some of the emergencies and things that they daily are called too. Our region was also struck by severe forest fires in recent past history. One large fire on the Kelowna side in 2003 (I was not here at that time), and last year a wild fire on the West Kelowna side (I mentioned this in a previous blog).

I copied a few images from the web, inserted them into file, along with some copy/text that I might use later.

I did a sketch of a crest for the front of the fire helmet. I noticed on the web that some of these are quite large and they looked like they were made from stitched leather. I did not want mine as big, so I proportioned one approximately 70 or 75% in size to the ones I saw. I decided to use the circular logo I saw on the Kelowna website on my crest. The logo had a center circle which was perfect for my installation of a mini LED light that I was thinking of using.

I could not find any leather material so I cut my crest, using my scroll saw, out of an old piece of green artist/modelers cutting board (the hat in the above photo is actually sitting on one of my green cutting mattes). This was easy to cut, looked like leather, but it was also rigid enough to stand upright on the helmet. I primed the crest using White Acrylic Gesso, and then sprayed it with a Gold Metallic Paint. I cut a 1 inch hole in the center of the crest material with a large hole bit and drilled a smaller hole below for securing it later with a pop rivet gun.

I transferred both hole center points to the fire helmet’s front and then drilled both holes through the fire helmet (shown above).

I inserted the mini LED flash light into the hat’s large hole and secured it both sides like I did for the fire truck and ambulance. When dry, as this was the last item I was inserting through the helmet, I painted the hat’s interior with a fresh coat of Black Acrylic Paint. The flashlights visible exterior was painted to match the fire helmet’s Bronze finish.

I painted the crest’s logo with Acrylic Paints as shown in the above photos. Then it was fitted over the projecting mini LED light and secured at bottom center with a pop rivet gun. A clear coat of Matte Acrylic Varnish was applied to the crest.

I hand-painted a circular ‘No Campfires’ logo (shown below) on a white recycled plastic bottle cap, securing it to the hat’s back with two pop rivets.

I also accent painted (added minimal color) to the various vehicles to give them character. I used similar colors throughout to create unity in all of the graphics on the fire helmet. I fused the two mini road cones onto the helmet using Crazy Glue.

Painting of my Images and Type to the Fire Helmet:

I looked through the reference images and my type I had put together and decided what I was going to use.

On the large back rim of the fire helmet, I decided to keep it simple and just hand letter the word Kelowna Fire Dept. in a simplified Olde English typeface. I lettered the words using White Acrylic mixed with a Pale Yellow. This went down well – working over the Bronze. When dry I added a Bright Red shadow directly to the Bronze with no under-painting. Then I added a little design to the letters using my Bright Red mixed with the Pale Yellow (an Orange color). And again when dry, I added a little Bright Gold to the middle of the Orange.

I previously mentioned Forest Fires. I chose a simple illustration of three fire personnel using fire hoses to put out small hot spots in an oval on one side of the helmet. I used the same Bright Orange and mixtures of the yellow, along with a little Burnt Sienna for trees, adding white for those further away. A hint of light green in some trees, others bare branches. The trick was adding a wash of Acrylic Medium Matte Varnish mixed with a touch of dirty White over the background to make it foggy – smokey! This image is dark, but I kept getting flash blobs on the illustration!

I wanted to add something historic, showing that firemen have been around us a long time. Also because this hat is being auctioned for a Fire Museum.

I decided on a horse drawn wagon, which could be responding to a city fire, or possibly a rural barn or field fire. The picture above was good, so I just left it on screen while I painted this image on the side of the helmet. I kept it simplified and used an ‘old sepia look’. By using Burnt Sienna line work only, the bronze shows through. I filled in only a few areas with a lighter Sepia Brown, and then added a wash over the background creating the oval. A touch of diluted White mixed with Matte Medium was used for the smoke/steam of the pumper wagon. Note that on both illustrations I did not stay within the oval, but let parts of the illustrations reach out of the oval area.

Room was left above the oval illustrations for copy. I hand lettered, using the Bright Fluorescent Orange mixed with a little White directly on the helmet. I used “God Bless Our Firemen” to show thanks, appreciation for all they do! On The other side I used “Prevent Forest Fires”. I used a hand script lettering for this.

A Canadian Flag, A Fire Hydrant, and a Dalmatian Dog were also hand-painted to the brim around the Kelowna Fire Dept. copy (shown above and below).

The front brim of the helmet is narrower, so I decided to add the Emergency Call ‘911’ with a fireman’s tool on each side. Finally, to protect the images three or four coats of sprayed Clear Acrylic will be added.

I hope that you’ve found my Arty Fire Helmet interesting!
It is great fun tackling these unusual projects when they come along. Questions & Comments are always welcomed!

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