Checking the Tools


We have talked before about some of the things that must be done at the beginning of the tour or during the drill night, but this particular subject is worthy of even more discussion. I don't know what comes to your mind when you hear the words "check the tools," but I hope it is a positive reaction. Let's look at this important task and how it should be done.

I can still clearly remember, from my first day on the job with the FDNY, until my promotion to lieutenant, how much I enjoyed checking the tools. My buddy Jay and I used to spend the good part of an hour checking all of the tools and equipment on our rig when assigned together with Rescue 3. Just in case you have forgotten, we are all part of a blue-collar profession. And in case you really young, very bright, computer-oriented folks don't know what that means, I will tell you. It means we work with our hands and we work with tools. Your tools, my tools, our tools are the most important items that we carry and we need to know whether they are where they should be, whether they are ready to work and, of course, how to use them properly.

Let's talk first about power tools. Take the circular saw from its compartment and put it on the floor. What next? Give it a good looking over. Make sure all the parts are connected, all the screws are tight and the blade is attached properly. While looking at the blade, make sure it is connected properly, meaning when it rotates, the leading edge of the blade will hit the material to be cut first. I have seen a blade installed on a saw backward and I even saw a person dressed like a firefighter who tried to cut with it! Next, open the fuel tank and make sure it is full. Not almost full, full! If it is not full, you should fix that problem now before continuing your tool check. If your apparatus is squared away, the fuel tank is right there, in the same compartment with the saw. OK, the saw is now fueled up.

Next, you need to set the control knobs and start the saw. The buttons vary with different saws, but generally the choke should be "on" or pulled out fully and the on/off lever should also be "on." Properly start the saw and let it run. Rev the saw up fully, squeeze the trigger fully and let it scream for a minute or so. Release the trigger and the blade should slow and stop. If you must, rest the still-spinning blade against a piece of wood and stop it. With the saw still running at an idle, the blade should not be turning. If it is, an adjustment is needed. If you carry two saws, you need to perform this entire check twice.

If you carry a generator, it too must be inspected, refueled if necessary, started and run under load, which means you should attach a light or other appliance that draws power and turn it on too. If you carry a hydraulic rescue tool with a motor, guess what? Inspect it, check the fuel and hoses and run it.

Hand tools are just as important as power tools and we use them much more frequently. When you open the compartment and find three axes and three halligans, what is required? You need to pick up each tool and take a look at it. If it's an axe, is the head securely attached to the handle? Shake it vigorously and find out. Is the handle in good shape? It should not be cracked, bent or otherwise damaged. You can only discover this by handling the axe.

If you pick up a halligan, you must also inspect it for damage, nicks or sharp edges. They can be remedied using the bench grinder or a file. If you are carrying screw-together halligans, meaning halligan tools that are put together rather than being made of one piece if steel, the screws may be loose. This pick-up-and-inspect rule for hand tools applies to all of them. Bolt cutters, crow bars, hooks and mauls all need your attention.

There is another task that must be conducted when each tool is handled. This applies to both power tools and hand tools. Clean them! If the company operated at a fire or emergency in the past several hours or during the last tour, the tools may be downright dirty. This means bringing the tools to the sink or hose and applying steel wool, brushes and soap. Each tool should be cleaned, dried and replaced in its compartment. Some steel tools can be lightly oiled to prevent formation of rust. Do not oil striking surfaces! Wipe them all down every time you check them.

Nothing says more about a fire company than the condition of its tools. Make your tools shine and so will you.

JOHN J. SALKA Jr., a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a 28-year veteran battalion chief with FDNY, the commander of the 18th battalion in the Bronx. Salka has instructed at several FDNY training programs, including the department's Probationary Firefighters School, Captains Management Program and Battalion Chiefs Command Course. He conducts training programs at national and local conferences and has been recognized for his firefighter survival course "Get Out Alive." Salka co-authored the FDNY Engine Company Operations manual and wrote the book First In, Last Out — Leadership Lessons From the New York Fire Department. He also operates Fire Command Training (, a New York-based fire service training and consulting firm.