Sponsored by Team Wendy
By Yoona Ha, PoliceOne BrandFocus Staff
When you experience a traumatic brain injury, it may have lasting repercussions. Every year, traumatic brain injuries contribute to about 30 percent of all deaths caused by injuries.
You cannot be an officer, a family member of an officer or a PoliceOne reader and not be aware that traumatic brain injuries are more common –and more dangerous – than previously known.
For law enforcement officials, wearing body armor is a no-brainer, but what’s often left out is having proper head and neck protection. This could be problematic given that 290 officers from 2003 to 2012 were killed by a shot in the head or neck.
And it’s those fatalities, especially ones caused by improper protection of the head that Dan T. Moore, the founder of helmet company Team Wendy, has been working to tackle since 1997. After the painful loss of his daughter Wendy Moore, he founded what initially started off as a ski helmet company that evolved into a research-based military and law enforcement helmet manufacturer based in Cleveland.
Moore made philanthropy a cornerstone of his business model. Over the years, Team Wendy has partnered with several nonprofit organizations, including those that serve active and veteran service members and working law enforcement dogs, amongst others.
“Wendy’s name lives on through our commitment to providing our customers with innovative, high-quality helmets that can be the difference between life and death,” said Joe Nagy, law enforcement and search and rescue market manager at Team Wendy.
That commitment goes beyond checking in on how these helmets and the accessories that support them help make a difference in the field. In 2018, Team Wendy received a grant from the Office of Naval Research to understand how traumatic brain injuries can be prevented with the right helmet technology.
As the president of the Ohio Tactical Officers Association and the commander of a local SWAT team in the state, Patrick Fiorilli, is often approached by officers who aren’t sure where to start when it comes to purchasing helmets. As someone who has seen helmet manufacturers come and go, his advice is simple: Before you purchase helmets, ask yourself these three questions:
1. How well does it offer protection in high-impact scenarios?
While it seems obvious to look at the level of protection a helmet offers, when you’re on a budget it can be easy to compromise on quality. According to Fiorilli, in the late 1980s and early 1990s some SWAT teams got by wearing surplus military helmets. But all of that changed with active shooter incidents like the Columbine High School shooting, where SWAT teams realized that helmets were necessary.
“Look for the weight, construction, design and interior components of the helmet, because there’s more to a helmet than just the shell. We need something that will protect the brain from blunt trauma,” said Fiorilli. “What differentiates Team Wendy’s ballistic helmets is in the inside padding and suspension system.”
The EXFIL Ballistic helmet, for instance, has a hybrid composite shell (which makes it stronger and more durable) that’s rated by the NIJ at Level III-A and exceeds current Advanced Combat Helmet blunt impact protection requirements. It’s also made with a proprietary Zorbium foam liner that protects against impact.
“Imagine telling a football player to go out and play without the right helmet on,” said Fiorilli. “That’s what we’re asking our officers to do when they go out to the field without a proper helmet or even no helmet at all.”
2. Is it comfortable enough to wear for extended periods of time?
One study that looked at how satisfied soldiers are with their ballistic helmets revealed that there’s often a tradeoff between a helmet’s ballistic protection and a helmet’s weight. Often the No. 1 reason for a soldier’s decision not to wear a helmet comes from the discomfort and heat retention issues they encounter while wearing the helmets in the field.
To address this known dilemma, Team Wendy developed a super-light version of the EXFIL Ballistic helmet, the EXFIL Ballistic SL that weighs only 2.2 pounds. Keep in mind that the original EXFIL Ballistic weighs only 2.6 pounds. And before the release of the SL version, it was known as the lightest proprietary helmet on the market.
“From my experience working with our tactical officer instructors who have Team Wendy helmets, they know and can count on the fact that they can work an entire shift without getting a headache,” said Fiorilli.
Proper fit is also an important aspect of helmet comfort, and Team Wendy’s helmets come with a boltless retention system known as the CAM FIT that adjusts to a wide array of head shapes and sizes. Interior padding can be adjusted to accommodate an overhead communications headband, or headsets can be attached to the helmet’s side accessory rails. A Wilcox machined aluminum shroud secures any night vision devices.
3. Is it configurable with other helmet accessories?
When you’re purchasing a helmet, you want to look for one that is going to integrate with the other accessories you’ll need as an officer (think tactical headsets, for example).
About five years ago, Team Wendy started making helmets that are designed to work in sync with other tools, like an in-ear communications headset, infrared helmet light and mounted cameras, just to name a few. Each of the EXFIL ballistic helmets comes with an accessory mounting system that allows for items like a ballistic visor and face shield to be easily installed without impeding use of the shroud.
Unlike other helmet outfitters, Team Wendy sells helmets that include the helmet shell, accessory rails, shroud, impact liner and retention system. This, Nagy pointed out, is in line with the company’s approach to designing and manufacturing systems-based helmets.
Often officers mistake helmets as a form of body armor that’s only needed for tactical or SWAT officers, but Fiorilli argues that there’s an increasing need for patrol officers to also have proper head protection.
“It only takes one officer down for departments to realize how head protection could have saved that officer from being killed,” said Fiorilli. “If cost is an issue, there are creative ways that you can pilot the use of quality helmets. For instance, you can limit the number of helmets to be purchased to the number of patrol cars you have, instead of the total number of officers you have in your department.”
Losing an officer can impact not just the department, but also the officer’s family and community members. After all, an officer’s No. 1 job responsibility is to make it safely back home. Don’t wait for another casualty to take the right steps to protect yourself and your fellow officers.