Remember the 'Old School' Techniques

Feb. 11, 2008
As we look to a new year filled where technology continues to impact our equipment, I would like to remind readers to remember the basics and less-advanced means of rescue.

Technical rescue is one of the newest and fastest growing segments of the emergency response community. Although it has one of the shortest life spans of any of our fire service activities, we still have to respect and remember the "Old School" methods we started with.

Technology is moving at an unparalleled pace. Sometimes it seems like we order an item today and prior to its arrival a new and improved version has appeared in the market place. As we embrace and obtain these newer, "better" techniques and pieces of equipment we must not forget how to function without them.

One of the most eye opening stories I have heard was from a firefighter in a very active and technologically advanced department. There he stood, telling the water cooler gathering how they had experienced a power plant failure of a pre-piped extrication tool on their rescue apparatus while working at a motor vehicle accident. To my surprise, the initial response from a number of listeners was, "how long did it take to get a back up company on scene?" "Back up company??" I was floored by that response.

How could the failure of one piece of equipment have brought their operation to a stand still? (In defense of the individual telling the story, his department did eventually adapt and overcome the situation at hand, completing the operation successfully.) But in listening to the experience, I began to realize a growing issue we are now faced with on all levels of firefighting.

Our dependency on the latest technology has increased, causing our fundamental skills to deteriorate.

Surrounding the extrication tool in question were compartments full of various hand and power tools that can accomplish the same tasks. Know where they are located on your apparatus!

It's important to know your inventory of smaller, and less frequently used tools. Although it might mean a longer and more challenging operation, we still must retain our original skills for moments of technical failure. By having a firm grip on the basics, we can overcome and adapt to the situations we encounter at the various incidents we respond to.

When it comes to vehicle extrication there are two commonly available tools: hacksaws and reciprocating saws. Let's look at some basic information for this equipment:


  • What working order are they in?
  • Old, bent and rusty blades are dangerous
  • Have multiple saws available
  • When a blade breaks and a rescuer turns for help, the best thing we can do is hand this individual a fresh tool with a new blade
  • This will keep the operation going and reduce the stress of the moment
  • Do not hand the rescuer a new blade and expect them to change it out in a timely and calm manner at that stage of the incident
  • One area where new technology can be blended with "old school" tools is in the utilization of new and improved blades. Shatter resistant blades can provide us with a much safer working environment.

Reciprocating Saws

  • Know the number of available saws and what type of power they require
  • Electric and Battery powered tools provide the next level of technology for cutting operations
  • A number of manufacturers have built battery operated tools in various voltage levels. 14.4volt, 18 volt and 24 volt being the most common types. We now have 28 volt and 36 volt tools on the market
  • The availability of AC/DC converters for these saws makes them even more versatile
  • When you are working at a remote location away from shore power you can utilize the batteries
  • When you are close to a power source the AC/DC converter gives you the option of plugging into the outlets available for your operation


  • The tool industry has developed some strong and aggressive blades for use in the fire/rescue service. Some of the various types of blades available are the:
    • Demolition - six teeth per inch for demolition work and cutting nail embedded wood and metal
    • Fire and rescue - 10 teeth per inch for fire and rescue, heavy-duty operations, pipe, structural and stainless steel 3/16- to 3/4--inch
    • Torch blades - For demolition, rescue and remodeling

Each and every tool we carry fills a specific need. Take the time to review and practice with all of the options you have available to you. Knowing the benefits and limitations of these tools will create a stronger more adaptable rescuer.

Now let's take a look at the human factor which is equally important in our efforts to keep up with the changes in technology that we face in the fire/rescue service. For those that have been in both the fire service and instructional world for a number of years we also must keep up with the times.

One of the best examples of changing with the times came from a speaker at an instructors conference. He spoke on the need to make sure "all aspects" of a training lesson covering rescue tools, specifically hand tools are covered. His example to prove his point went as follows:

If you were from an older generation and your lawn mower didn't run properly, you would put it on the work bench and try to fix it with your collection of tools. Be it with a crescent wrench, Philips head screw driver, socket wrench or any of the tools available to you, you would begin a "rescue attempt" on your dying mower. Then once you had achieved your goal of getting it to run (and lets all admit it still counted as running properly even if we were filling the neighbor's yard with blue smoke from our now "resuscitated" mower), you then continue on with your task of mowing the lawn.

Many people today when faced with the same dilemma of a nonfunctional mower will take it to the curb for the trash collector. Then it's off to the local home center to purchase a new mower and return home to complete the day's chores.

As we sat there wondering where he was going with this tale, he brought it all together by concluding that; many of the members coming into the fire service today do not come with the "Old School" ways of doing what it takes to get the job done. Because of this we may be responding along side a fellow firefighter that does not know the difference between a flat head screwdriver and a Philips head screwdriver or a crescent wrench and a combination wrench.

It is imperative that we all take the time to pass along the knowledge that others have shared with us over the years. We can not take for granted that everyone we respond with has the same knowledge and background. By doing this we can continue the long and honored traditions of providing those we respond to with the highest level of service.

Whether it is the new technology or the old school methods being used, the successful outcome of our efforts is what we will be judged by.

BOB DUEMMEL serves as the Technical Rescue Editor for Firehouse and is a captain with the Rochester, NY, Fire Department. He serves as the plans manager for New York Task Force 2 (NY TF-2) and is a member of the New York State USAR IST. Duemmel has delivered training to fire service, industrial, military and international rescue teams and is the host of “The Buzz on Technical Rescue" podcast series on You can reach him at [email protected]

Voice Your Opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Firehouse, create an account today!