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Pockets of Pliers: A Preferred Practice

Pockets of Pliers: A Preferred Practice

When I first got on the job, I had the privilege of working for a Lieutenant who was the epitome of a fireman’s fireman. After catching a fire during a 24-hour tour, we were swapping out our turnout gear in an effort to curb our exposure to cancer causing carcinogens which is a strictly enforced department policy.


Through my peripheral vision, I caught him giving me a look and I assumed he was probably thinking, “the new guy did well today, I’m impressed”. That was the farthest thing from what he was thinking.  In fact, he was looking in bewilderment as I was taking everything out of my pockets with the exception of the kitchen sink.


It was then that he did what is expected from a Company Officer (Leader) and a true working boss. He took the time to enlighten me as to why it wasn’t the best practice to overload the pockets of my turnout gear with a makeshift tool cache straight from Tim the Toolman Taylor. In fact it was then that he helped me to eliminate 3-4 separate devices in place of a pair of locking pliers which lightened my load and lessened my profile.


In this short training article, I will briefly discuss the implementation of carrying a pair of locking pliers on the fireground and how diverse their use can be during many tasks that we are confronted with while working in our profession.


Locking pliers are a cost-effective means of using a common tool from labor trades and improvising them for purposes within the fire service. These pliers (which are commonly referred to by the brand name Vise Grips) can be purchased at any local hardware store and are stocked at all major big box stores such as Home Depot and Lowes with prices averaging from $20 to $300 depending on how much you are willing to spend.


With two (2) simple variations (replacing the set bolt with an eye bolt and attaching a lanyard) the locking pliers can discreetly be carried within a pocket on your turnout gear and will be easily accessible when needed for the following tasks:

Overhead Doors

No matter if the garage/overhead door is opened via manual means or with the use of an electric door opener, the possibility of the door closing after firefighters gain access for search or suppression efforts is high. The option of staging a lone firefighter at the door is counter-intuitive to fireground operations when that able body could be put to use to meet the objective.


By simply locking the pliers to the door rail directly below where the bottom of the door rests in the open position (shown in the photo to the left), the door will NOT close on a charged hoseline or trap the firefighters in the garage or warehouse space should the door springs fail.


Chain / Lock

My personal pair of locking pliers has a piece of 1” tubular webbing that is sewn in a fashion at the end to create a handle.

The most common use for a pair of locking pliers equipped with a lanyard is for cutting a padlock or section of chain with a rotary saw. By clamping the locking pliers to the body of the lock or section of chain, it allows for a firefighter to apply tension to the lock and/or chain which will prevent them from moving around while being cut by the rotary saw.

An added safety benefit of using the lanyard with this practice is that it permits for the firefighter applying the tension to work from a safer distance to avoid coming in contact with the sparks or debris.

Door Control

With the current compliment maintained in my gear while I am on duty, I have the means to perform door control in two (2) ways:

1. Allows for controlling the flow path when performing forcible entry.

By wrapping the 1" tubular webbing around the doorknob (on an inward swinging door) with a simple girth hitch, it        allows for the "door control" firefighter to monitor conditions and secure the door until the hoseline is charged and ready for advancement. 

2. Maintains an open avenue for hoseline advancement. 

Most residential storm doors are equipped with a closing piston located at the top of the door (modern styles have pistons located on top and bottom) which when activated control the speed of the door closing and also can hold the door in an open position.

With the door fully opened, clamp the exposed piston rod with the locking pliers to the top piston, creating an unobstructed means of access for the Engine to advance the hoseline into the structure. An added benefit to securing the door open from the top piston is that it prevents hand tools, boots and hose from dislodging the pliers and having the door pinch the hoseline on suppression crews. 

Standpipes and Gate Valves

Often times when performing standpipe operations, we are faced with systems that are missing the hand wheel needed to open or shut the standpipe's gate valve. The valves are NOT maintained properly and are damaged by outside exposure (parking garage systems) or purposely damaged by the hands of vandals.

When confronted with this dilemma, quick access to a pair of locking pliers can act as a makeshift handle to operate the valve when water is needed in a timely manner. This can easily be accomplished by clamping the locking pliers to the exposed valve stem and turned in a counterclockwise motion to open when water is called for. The same method can also be applied should the handle or hand wheel on a gate valve break when connected to a 2.5" discharge port on a hydrant.

Ring Removal

Most fire apparatus carry an EMS kit (first-in bag) because they also provide basic life support efforts prior to the arrival of a transporting ambulance. Within their cache of gauze and airways, many stock a ring cutter for the removal of finger jewelry following trauma to an hand and/or finger.

A modern trend for men's wedding bands is for them to be made of tungsten due to its low cost and durability which prevents them from getting scratched. The downside to the tungsten ring is that it cannot be resized and should your hand and/or finger swell from an injury, a ring cutter will NOT work for ring removal.

With tungsten rings, the ring itself will need to be shattered by the use of force from a pair of locking pliers (depicted in photo to the left). To start, capture the outside diameter of the ring with the locking pliers. Should the force NOT shatter the tungsten, open the locking pliers and adjust the eye bolt and reapply the pliers in an effort to apply greater force. These steps should be repeated until the ring is shattered and removed. As with any practice, you need to ensure that the safety of the patient remains paramount throughout the operation to prevent further injury to the hand/finger. 


Many of the tools we use for our trade have been adapted from an outside profession such as plumping, carpentry and even automotive mechanics. With slight adjustments, the fire service has benefited from making small changes to existing tools and equipment that meet our needs. Rather than reinventing the wheel each time an obstacle arises, one can easily implement a device such as the locking pliers such as my Lieutenant has.

With all aspects of training and education, the fire service will only get better by sharing what we know and have learned with those around us. As you find or develop a new purpose for a tool, pass the buck.

AB Turenne is a 24-year veteran of the fire service in Eastern Connecticut. As a Certified Level II Fire Service Instructor, AB's training curriculum has proven to be conducive with the operational needs of those he teaches and in turn has improved the human capital knowledge of many. A graduate from the Master of Public Administration program at Anna Maria College, AB has continued his efforts in training and education by contributing to the Fire Engineering Training Community.



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