Repeat after me…”This is my tool, there are many like it, but this one is mine.” If anyone ever asks for my tool at a fire, this is the response they will get. If you have been to at least one fire, you know how important a tool can be. If you have ever taken a real self-survival class, you know how important a tool is. The question is: Do you always carry one? Without a tool, you are just a well-dressed and well-informed civilian.
When I began Recruit School in my former department, I was informed by the training staff that throughout our entire recruit journey we would be assigned 3 tools for our squad to keep up with and utilize during drills. No big deal right? Well, until you forgot it…That action earned you (your squad) a trip up the 5-story tower, stopping on each floor for a nice 10, 20, 30, 40, and 50 push up workout on each floor (10 on the 1st, 20 on the 2nd, and so on). Needless to say, by the second week we remembered our tools. One of the Captains in the academy made the statement I began this article with during the second week, and I haven’t forgotten it since.
How many times have you been in a fire when someone says “Hey man, let me borrow your hook” because they were too selfish and undisciplined to bring their own. I always reply to them “Where do you need the hook, show me and I’ll handle it.” Undisciplined firefighters don’t carry tools, don’t care that they don’t have one, but are the first to insist they need yours. If I give my tool up to one of these “firefighters,” I become a well-dressed and protected civilian. Firefighters are nothing without tools, whether it is a hose, Thermal Imaging Camera, halligan, hook, or a ladder. We must have a tool of some sort to do our job. We need to take ownership of the tools that we take with us anywhere. Our minds allow us to formulate a plan to do our job, while the tools allow us to do it.
I have advocated carrying a tool so far, but let us also consider what types of tools we should carry. Some firemen carry the same tool all of the time, and I get that, but each call presents differing hazards that we must base our tool selection on. First, we must carry tools that work together. If I have a halligan, I need to carry a striking tool of some sort with me to ensure I can use the halligan properly. If I carry a hook, the can may be the right option; it just depends on staffing, occupancy, and the procedures within your department. Understanding the cooperation between tools is just as important as carrying them on the fireground.
If I’m on the nozzle I always want a hook with my crew so we can find the fire once we knockdown the visible fire. Additionally, different hooks are good for different positions and company assignments. Roof work may require a different tool and hook complement than would an interior search assignment.
An engine crew doesn’t need to carry a long hook because it may slow down the advancement of the hose, but it is always an option. The point is it is better to be looking at a tool than looking for one. The last thing any firefighter needs is to need a tool that could assist in preventing fire spread in a fire building and not having one with them. It is much easier to be proactive on the fireground than it is to be reactive. If we take an effective assortment of tools in with us, we will be much more effective at our core goal of extinguishment of the fire.
Additionally, as an engine firefighter you must also differ your tools based on occupancy. If I respond to a residential structure, I may want my crew to carry a water can, irons, and the TIC. However, if I respond to Lowe’s, Wal-Mart, or a high-rise, I want the search rope, high-rise kits, TIC, and the Irons. Tool selection must be varied by occupancy and function. For instance, in a commercial structure a 6’ hook would be more effective than a 32” closet hook. At multiple dwellings, hotels, or even large houses it may be beneficial to expedite forcing multiple doors to carry the hydra ram. An important point to note during all of these decisions is what is too much for a firefighter to carry. Remember, once we make it to wherever we are going to work with all of our tools, we must have enough energy left to actually do the work. Do not overwork yourself prior to even “going to work” on the fire scene.
Again, some of these tool assignments would be tough for one person to carry in the smaller departments, but the thoughts should still be in your head considering tool choice. Being familiar with tool functions is much more important than just grabbing one while dismounting the apparatus. Train on the particular tools that your company and department have until you understand when to use what, as well as when to carry what. Tool choice is important not only for when we make entry into the fire building, but also for us to use as forcible exit tools in the event we have an emergency.
As an Officer, I continuously see firefighters operating at working fires with no tools but the nozzle. Too many firefighters forget that the backup man needs to carry something, as does the officer. Just because you are pulling slack on the line doesn’t mean that you can just sit there and take time off. I work in a single piece Engine house, so until our backup arrives, it is all on us. We must quickly force entry, deploy a line, and even conduct a search of the immediate area of the fire, prior to anyone else arriving in parts of our still alarm. A backup firefighter on the line should have a hook or halligan that will allow the crew to open up the wall, ceiling, etc. once the initial knockdown takes place. Additionally, having that tool allows for the engine to knock out a quick search of the fire room or rooms along the hose line, if no one else is available for that assignment. In any case, if you have three members on the crew of a Ladder company or an Engine company I always advocate for someone to carry a halligan. The halligan is one of the best tools we have because you can do so much with it. When I say halligan, I am also not referring to a mini-halligan, nor am I talking about a bar that has any more the one piece to it. The Pro Bar is the prevailing halligan out there that is drop forged and one piece. This construction makes for a stronger, more effective, and overall more durable “bar.” On most fire scenes it is a challenge for the fire-due engine company to accomplish carrying a tool in addition to stretching and advancing the line. Whatever your staffing complement is in your jurisdiction, ensure that your tool assignments, or choices complement it.
With all this talk about tools, we also need to remember the point I mentioned in the beginning about discipline. Disciplined firefighters will select the right tool, carry it, and take ownership in it. If you give your tool to anyone you are failing yourself and your crew. Even in an escape situation I don’t want to hand my tool to anyone; I may need it to save myself, or more than likely to clear an obstacle we come across. The tool you take off the truck is yours, not the guy’s from the station across town. I mean if I lose it, I will have to answer for it and take responsibility for it. Of course, we all work together as a team inside the building, but go assist the folks who need your tool, never give it away, it is yours.
I will close by also reminding you to care for your tools on your apparatus. Everyone washes their trucks and cleans the station, but how many times have you or your company taken the tools out to give them a bath? Tools need to be cleaned, filed, and occasionally “tuned up.” Take the time to sharpen the dull adz, to sharpen the forks of the pro bar, or just to oil down the axe head. We continuously wash our trucks and maintain them, but we fail ourselves and the tools by leaving them to fend for themselves. Nothing shows a lack of company pride like a compartment full of rusty and dull tools. In a recent class put on by another department, I was happy to find they were letting us use finely-tuned, cared-for, and functional tools. Well cared for tools will perform better every time than their rusty, neglected counter parts. "Tuning tools" isn't just for looks it will result in increased function and efficiency every time.
Remember, whether dismounting the truck for a fire alarm or a working fire, you must carry something that will help you do your job. The way you act on the fire alarm is the way you will act on the working fire. Habit-forming behavior can be positive or negative, it is your choice. Choose to carry a tool for yourself; it could even save someone else, or even help put the fire out more efficiently. Expect fire on every fire call. Behave the same way on the fire alarm as you do on the working fire. Make every call the dress rehearsal for the big one. Dismount the truck, select a tool, and go to work. Don’t be that guy who asks “Hey can I borrow your tool?”, be the firefighter who says "No you can't, but where do you need it?"