What Hand Tools Do You Choose?

As the men and women who ride in the jumpseat, we have a certain level of responsibility to our officers. Following orders and performing to their expectations are two things that remain constant on every run we go on. Performing our tasks to their expectations is one that we all should take seriously as the last person we would want to let down is our leaders.

If your department allows you to choose your hand tools, I want to know which ones you choose and why? Let's take a look at where and why you would choose a tool for different occasions.

Fire attack - Usually, the attack crew will carry a tool with them during entry. This will allow them to have a means for accomplishing many tasks. One problem with carrying a tool during fire attack is the need for having both hands on the hose to advance it. Often when advancing hose the backup firefighter will put their tool down and either loose it or forget to pick it up. Keeping these considerations in mind should help you choose the tool you take with you.

  • Flat head axe: A backup firefighter will be able to slide the flat head down their waist strap to allow both hands free to advance hose. A Flathead axe can be used in conjunction with the Halligan to force doors, or use the axe end for chopping while the flat end can be used as a sledge hammer. 
  • Pick head axe: Choosing the pick head has many similarities as the flat head in regards to carrying it in your waist strap area. It can also allows the function of a prying tool to the different chopping applications, but cannot be used to set the Halligan bar.

Vent Crew - if you are tasked with opening up the roof your tool selection will be as important as your saw selection. Assessing the pitch, materials, and construction type of the roof will allow you to make that decision. A flat commercial roof will require different gear then a steep, pitched residential roof. 

  • Pick head axe: Choosing to take the pick head will allow you to use it as a foot hold or to chop through the remaining roof sheeting. And, should there be a saw failure, you have your backup tool right there. It offers ease of carrying as well. 
  • Halligan: Seems like you can use this thing for every task! It to can be used as a foothold on a steep roof, but also offers a prying tool if the sheeting is being a problem once the cuts have been made. It can be a little harder to carry in a waist belt but, it can be done.
  • Six-foot hook: Whether you use a saw or axe to make your opening, you can push the hook through the hole to get the maximum opening in any debris below.

Searching - preforming a search on the fireground without the protection of a hose stream is one of the most dangerous tasks. Choosing the appropriate tool will help you effectively search and mitigate the challenges you may face. Some more common challenges encountered while searching are locked interior doors, entanglement hazards and cluttered environments. These factors should be taken into consideration when choosing which tool to take with you.

  • Four- to six-foot hook: If you are entering a window to start your search it can be used to check the floor, to mark your exit location, reach across to close the door, or check the ceiling area for fire.
  • Irons: Maybe you are entering the front door and crawling down a hallway? This situation may call for a set of irons as the occupants have closed and locked the door while trying to keep the fire out of their room.

In a matter of 600 words we were able to identify three different situations where multiple tools can be deployed. Are you a expert with each one? If not, maybe it's time that we choose a tool and get better acquainted with it it.

Being a street-level firefighter allows us the freedom from command decisions and puts us at the tip of the spear. The end that's doing the work. We should be able to work with every tool on our rig in a competent fashion.

If you are like me and have tools that you could use some refresher training one get out to the truck, grab it, and get reintroduced to it as you will never know what your task might be on the fireground!

Bunker up, buckle in, it's where we all begin!

  • See Ryan Live! Blogger Ryan Pennington will be presenting "Hoarder Homes: Piles of Hazards for Firefighters" at Firehouse Expo in Baltimore, July 23 - 27.