What Tools Are In Your Pockets?

Having tools available in your turnout gear pockets, may save your life or the life of a brothers or sister firefighter. They might enable you to get yourself or another firefighter out of a dangerous situation.

They can be used before the Rapid Intervention team is able to get to you. To be able to save yourself or anyone for that matter you need the tools available and with you.

If you need to assist a brother firefighter or save yourself in a fire building or need a tool to do your job, on the fire ground, what do you have?

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Photo courtesy of the Setauket Fire Dept.
New lightweight air-conditioning ductwork that was effect by a fire in a truss loft, these duct contain many feet of wire to maintain the ducts shape and when exposed to fire the fail. This wire may trap firefighters in wire.

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Photo courtesy of the Setauket Fire Dept.
The mask, frame and harness of a firefighters SCBA that became trapped in wire at a fire. The firefighter had to be cut out of the wire to be removed. Notice how the portable radio also was tangled in the wire.

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Photo Courtesy Michael M. Dugan
If a member has tools in right hand pocket they are more accessible if the firefighter has to use an SCBA emergency procedure. If the tools were in the other coat pocket the member would have to reach across their body to retrieve a tool.

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Photo Courtesy Michael M. Dugan
Bunker pants with pockets are also an option. Some departments buy their gear with one or the other. If your gear does not have coat pockets then your personnel escape tools should be in the pants pocket on the right side. The best of both worlds is to have both coat and pants pockets available.

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Photo Courtesy Michael M. Dugan
Some of the tools carried and pockets they came out of. The more pockets you have to more tools you can bring.

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Photo Courtesy Michael M. Dugan
Tools carried in pants pocket include spare work gloves (not for firefighting), door chocks, extra cutting pliers, and a search line.

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Photo Courtesy Michael M. Dugan
Tools carried in bunker coat pocket include webbing, a search/utility line for controlling doors, nails(Used as door chocks), wire cutters, utility knife and small spare light.

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Photo Courtesy Michael M. Dugan
Cable wire that was pulled down from one cable raceway in a New York City housing project. There may be two or three raceways in some large residential building. Firefighters have died trapped in cable wires.

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Photo Courtesy Michael M. Dugan
Members drilling using cable wire as a firefighters trap. Members must be able to get to their tools and remove the wire from their own SCBA. This is an easy and quick drill that can be done in the firehouse.

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Photo Courtesy Michael M. Dugan
Tools found in a pouch in the bunker coat pocket. These tools include screwdrivers, electrical tape, lock picking tools and nails. The pouch helps prevent tools from making holes in pocket and keeps them all together. The personnel escape tools are not kept in pouch, as that would make them harder to get to. The firefighter must be able to retrieve the knife, wire cutter and flashlight without delay.

There is not have a lot of room in our pockets; therefore we need to carry tools that can be used to assist us in as many tasks as possible.

There are a few things that every firefighter must carry.

First is a set of wire or cable cutters. The new world of modern technology is an information dependant society. Cable wire and telephone wire are run throughout almost every building being built in the world and can be found in most homes and offices around the world.

People need to access this information and wires are needed to accomplish this. The draw back is this wire becomes a major hazard when heated or exposed to fire and it may drop to the floor.

This down wire can entrap or entangle firefighters making it impossible for them to move, and leading to them being trapped in the wire within the fire building. This cable wire was a major contributing factor to the death of a firefighter in Memphis and has entangled some members of the FDNY who were barely able to be disentangled.

In newer buildings the air conditioning ducts are now lightweight plastic tubes resembling dry hose. The problem with this ductwork is that wires of various sizes are used to allow the duct to keep its shape.

When fire enters the area around this ductwork, which it probably will due to air diffuser at ceiling level, the wire is now a hanging hazard and may trap a firefighter. This has happened one more than one occasion and has almost cost a firefighter his life. Therefore firefighters need the tools to be able to overcome this problem if they encounter it on the fire ground.

For these reasons we should have a pair of good wire or cable cutters available in your pockets. With this tool you can cut the wire that entangle you or another firefighter before it is too late. This tool will also be usefully at automobile fire and when called out for electrical emergency.

Another must is the knife to be able to cut your way out of anything that might trap you in a fire. Knifes come in all shapes, size, and price ranges. Some members elect to go for a top of the line knife. The problem with that is if it is in your pocket, someone will borrow it. When you need it is gone. To remedy this a sheet rock knife is recommended, it is cheep and the blades are easily changed.

The sheet rock knife is also easy to operate with gloves on. The knife will cut what ever you need it to and if it is lost or misplaced it's easily replaced. These tools are a must to protect yourself.

The question with these tools is where do you keep your emergency tools? Left hand pocket if you are left handed and right hand pocket if you are right handed? That would seem to be the logical choice but we are dealing with the fire service. Your emergency escape tools must be kept in your right hand pocket because if you need to use your emergency SCBA procedures and get out of your pack to free yourself your left hand will be holding on to your left shoulder strap and your air supply hose.

This means that if your tools are in your left pocket then you must reach completely across your body, which might be difficult depending on how you are trapped. Therefore these tools should be in your right pocket and you should have easy access to them.

If your tools are in a pouch or tied together then they might be useless to you in an emergency. They should be loose in the pocket and be easily retrieved, when needed. The emergency tools will save your life and as such should be required in every firefighters pocket.

The location and availability of these tools will also depend on the type of bunker gear that you are wearing. Some of the newer bunker gear is being manufactured with only pants pockets or with a self-rescue rope pocket on the right hand side.

The purchasing and safety departments of the organization must address this; these choices might impact the safety of your firefighters. If the department request the availability of a pocket on the right side of every bunker coat, the manufactures will most likely install them.

Other things that should be in your pockets are the basic precautions for first aid, a pocket mask and some gloves. These items will protect you from exposure and possible disease. These diseases and exposures will come home with you so always use universal precautions to protect your family and to use them you must have them with you.

These will be needed at automobile accidents, fire victim removal, first aid calls and anything we might encounter as a firefighter.

Another tool that we might carry are a screwdriver. The most practical screwdriver is a multiple type with interchangeable heads and sizes. This allows you to carry one tool to do the job of two. The screwdriver has an interchangeable head and will do the job of two screwdrivers.

Members should also have a piece of rope in their pocket. The rope will serve a few different functions. First you can use it as a line when place on the door as it is forced to maintain control of the door. This allows for member to work on the door and an additional member can maintain control of the door.

A second use would be if member are operating on a roof they could attach the rope to a tool and vent top floor window when ordered by their officer, operating on the interior. The rope could also serve as a search line attached to a door allowing the member to only advance the length of the rope, into a fire area and quickly find their way out. The rope if chained together this will help eliminate the possibility of tangling and knots.

These tools are some of the basic tools carried in a Firefighters pocket. Additional tools can be carried if available, such as webbing, lock tools an extra light, and door chocks, nails or wedges for securing a door open. These things are going to be based on the amount of room in your pockets and the number of pockets on your gear.

When your department is purchasing new bunker gear it is wise to remember that the pocket are important and that a right hand pocket should always be available for self rescue tools.

A tool pouch will also help eliminate the possibility of tools coming through the pockets. The only tools that will help you in an emergency are those with you. With this in mind make your choices wisely.


Michael M. Dugan is a 17-year veteran of the FDNY, serving as a Captain of Ladder 123 in Brooklyn?s Crown Heights. He has been involved with the Fire Service for 27 years. He is also a ?HOT? instructor at the ?Firehouse Expo.? He is a contributing editor to ?Firehouse? magazine. While assigned as a firefighter in Ladder Company 43, Dugan received the James Gordon Bennett medal in 1992 and the Harry M. Archer Medal in 1993, the FDNY?s highest award for bravery.

If you have any questions regarding this subject area, Mike can be contacted at: duganfire@aol.com

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