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Why Are You Carrying All That Extra Weight In Your Pockets?
As you finish adjusting your SCBA, you hear the boss call out, "Working fire, boys!" He picks up the radio. "Truck 1 to communications, We're at the box, working fire, heavy smoke, top floor, five-story non-fireproof brick-and-joist."
The truck pulls up in front of the building and everyone bails out, going to do their jobs. You have the irons and have to catch up to the boss as he climbs the five flights to the fire floor. He calls out to you through the smoke, "I've got the apartment over here." As you start down the hallway, the smoke is so thick you can lean on it, so you get low and you can see his flashlight under the smoke layer. As you approach and prepare to force entry, the boss says, "Quick, pass me a pipe wrench."
A pipe wrench? When was the last time someone asked you for a pipe wrench at a working fire? For that matter, has anyone ever asked you for a screwdriver, channel lock or box wrench while you were pushing down the hallway at a working fire? No? So why are you laden down with all that extra weight in your pockets?
We need certain tools on the fireground and others for emergencies, but why do we carry all this stuff all of the time? Is it because we don't want to get caught short? In reality, we can carry an assortment of tools on the apparatus and take what we need each time, depending on the call. As a firefighter, I carried a military ammunition pouch stuffed with tools on the apparatus and grabbed what I needed as I saw fit, or I just grabbed the whole pouch and took it along on certain emergencies. The guys I worked with called it my "bag of tricks." When I was promoted, I gave the pouch to my mutual partner, but I realized later that I could still use it, so I made another one. This pouch weighs in at just under 15 pounds - and that's weight that I don't have to haul five or 10 stories to a food-on-the-stove call.
In addition to the normal complement of tools, the pouch can hold all of the extra items you might otherwise carry in your pockets. As I got older on the job and needed to work smarter, rather than harder, I emptied out my pockets into the pouch. I always have chocks, knives, a shove tool and a personal rope with me, but the assortment of other tools that I need only in certain situations goes into the pouch.
The pouch holds an extra pair of latex gloves in one front pocket and an additional length of rope in the other. The additional rope is a three-foot length of 1/8-inch nylon construction used strictly for holding or securing lightweight items. I also put two telephone pole spikes in that pocket to keep a door ajar and prevent it from locking behind me - just drop a spike on a lower hinge and the door can't close. It's great when you're expecting reinforcements and need to keep the doors ajar. You also can keep one or two in your helmet rubber band for quick access. I also have a conical wooden plug in that same pocket for plugging leaks in pipes and tanks. A golf tee or a small piece of rubber hose and a pipe clamp also work well for plugging small holes.
In the main compartment of the pouch are two common slotted screwdrivers, one long and thin and the other smaller and more stout. There are two Phillips screwdrivers too, one large and one small. There is a wire cutter that has been unbelievably handy and a smaller, light- duty wire cutter. Needle-nose pliers, regular pliers and a set of channel locks are in the pouch as well. The channel locks have had the handles modified. On the bottom of each handle I have ground them down to use when going through a lock. On one handle it is ground down flat, like a screwdriver, and the other handle is bent at a 90-degree angle and ground down flat too. This way, you can use the channel locks to remove the bezel ring from a rim-type lock, pull the lock from the door and use the handle to open the lock by inserting the ground-down end of the tool in to the opening. If it's a slotted opening, use the straight end and just turn; otherwise, use the bent side and the 5-to-7 method, depressing the cam inside the lock and rotating left or right.
The pouch would not be complete without 9/16-inch and half-inch open-end/box wrenches. These are two of the most common-size nuts and bolts you will encounter. And since you may need something on the other side to hold the nut or bolt, add a pair of medium-size locking pliers. I also added a small wrench set and ratchet set for small jobs as well as a crescent wrench, two adjustable wrenches and a pair of tension wrenches that adapt to any size nut or bolt. The wrenches that adapt to any nut or bolt are handy on stripped fasteners because the harder you push or pull, the tighter they grab on to the fastener.
Now back to that pipe wrench. I've used it at water leaks, steam leaks and gas leaks. It is an extremely useful tool, limited only by your imagination. By the way, none of the tools measure over 10 inches in the closed position to assure they fit into the pouch. Attached to the shoulder strap of the pouch is a removable key ring. This is helpful if you have a federal or state building complex in your district that has many keyed-alike doors. For any complex for which you can obtain keys, make copies and keep them on your radios, key rings or the shoulder strap of the pouch.
TONY TRICARICO is a 29-year veteran of the fire service, 25 with the FDNY, and currently the captain of the Special Operations Unit, Squad Company 252 in Brooklyn. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.