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When we started offering classes and offering hands on training, the one thing we wanted to make sure of was that the training was as realistic as possible.  We had all attended hands on training drills and classes and we know what we liked as a student and what we didn't.  So, when we run our drills we want the student to have as realistic of an experience as possible in a safe setting.

One of the props we use in multiple drills is an entanglement prop.  The purpose is used in many ways:

--identifying the hazard during normal firefighting operations and avoiding the area

--identifying one of the parameters for calling the mayday

--being able to self extricate or untangle yourself when debris falls on you

All of the above are important and crucial for firefighters and officers to have a strong mastery of. The portion we are going to address today is the use of wire cutters to cut entanglements that may have you trapped.  In many cases, a firefighter who is calm, aware and who has the right tools, cutting a few wires may create an easy escape.

The first rule here is to stay calm and don't barrel your way through the wires. This will expend needed energy and air that you may need later or for an extended wait for help.  Additionally, trying to use brute strength, in most cases, will only tighten your entanglement making locating and cutting the source of entanglement harder.

In past classes we have taken, and provided, we would hook a firefighter, have them verbalize the mayday, find the entanglement and then unhook them.  What we found after a couple of classes is that we were teaching them to just identify the problem and not really solve it.  So, we began making the firefighters in the prop cut or remove their entanglement on their own. This was a real eye opener.

The tools that we carry are not always adequate for what we want them to do.  One common theme among many firefighters that attend our class is that they carry multi-tools like a Gerber or Leatherman believing that they will use that tool to cut their way out of an entanglement.  Here are some problems that are seen with these tools:

--they are small and hard to find with gloved hands

--once they are found, they have to be opened and made ready to cut

--they have a very small surface area for cutting wires, very small

--they really are a two-handed tool, one to hold it and one to open the cutters/pliers

--many keep them on their duty belts and are unable to reach them


What we recommend is a pair of cutters that are fairly large in your pocket and are easy to feel and retrieve.  They should also be able to cut at least an 8 gauge wire or the aluminum sheathed commercial romex.  They should be sturdy and easy to operate with one hand. The reason we recommend longer handled cutters is that they provide a little more leverage by holding them lower on the handle if need be.

The photos show the multi-tool and a pair of wire cutters that we picked up and the local auto parts store for around $15.  They aren't real heavy and I personally have cut objects, flexible water line, that were 3/8 of an inch with no problems.

Just know your tools and what it's capabilities are. If you have expectations for the tools in your pockets, practice with them.  I have seen firefighters throw "tools"in there pockets that were absolutely useless when they finally trained with them.

Train hard and train with purpose and make drills as realistic as possible.  Just a note, most HVAC companies will give you left over flex duct that you can use for entanglement drills. It's realistic in regards to what we very likely could run into and they stretch out to allow multiple evolutions with one small section.

Take care and keep on training,



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Comment by Jason Hoevelmann on June 7, 2012 at 10:10am

Those are great ideas, thanks. Makes sense to be similar in where each member carries their tools.  Thanks again.

Comment by David D'Arcy on June 7, 2012 at 10:07am

I recommend carrying two different types. High and low. I use my radio pocket on my left side and my bunker pant pocket on my right side. In fact, I make all of my guys carry their cutters the same way. Continuity is key. If I need something from your gear (or vice versa), I know exactly where to go to get it. Also, no other tools are carried in those pockets. It makes accessing the cutter easier with a gloved hand.

I would recommend the cable cutter and some sort of combo cutter (Lineman style). Since one tools doesn't necessarily do it all, I think your odds of successfully cutting materials increase if you have multiple types of tools.

Comment by Jason Hoevelmann on June 7, 2012 at 9:54am

Thanks David, and that is a great point to carry a primary and secondary set.  When you suggest that, do you recommend certain types that are in contrast in capabilities or just a back up pair?

Comment by David D'Arcy on June 7, 2012 at 9:51am

Great post Jason. We discuss the same issues in a class I teach at my academy. During the lecture portion, I provide a demonstration of the most common types of cutters FF's carry and what they can and cannot cut through. I use various gauges of Romex and BX and network cable, telephone wire, air duct wire and drop ceiling wire. It's interesting to see what cutters will and won't work.

I have found that there is no one cutter that works best for every type of hazard. The cable cutter (pictured in your post) works well on the most amount of materials. We recommend carrying a primary and secondary set of cutters. While the multi-tool is a good tool and serves a purpose we don't recommend carrying it as a primary or secondary tool.

Stay Safe, Keep Training.


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