Every firefighter wears structural protective gear that have pockets—both on the jacket and on the pants. Some fire departments have elected to not have pockets on the pants to increase firefighter comfort and mobility. The jacket will have a set of pockets with two side pockets for the left and right hand—the other pockets are usually optional based on department operations.
With these pockets available for us to use, the question we have to ask is: What is in your pockets? Every firefighter will carry a variety of hand or personal tools in their pockets for a variety of reasons; hopefully the tools you have are the right ones that you need. A good rule of thumb is to regularly inventory the tools that are carried in your pockets to see which ones were used in the last year and which ones were not. The ones that were not used should be removed from your inventory and replaced with something else that can be used in the next year.
Carrying too many personal tools in your pockets can be overwhelming. There are many firefighters who will overload themselves with personal tools, gadgets, and trinkets. Although the market supports this demand, prudence is needed to whittle down what tools you exactly have a need for and which ones you do not.
What are some good tools that we should carry in our pockets? The first item would be two sets of wire cutters—not one pair but two pairs. Each of the wire cutters should be placed in two different locations for access. One set can be in the radio pocket on the jacket and the other set located in the opposing cargo pocket on the pant. This is for firefighter survival purposes. If you cannot reach the one set perhaps you will be able to access the other set.
The next item will be a length of webbing. The webbing should be a minimum of 10 feet in a closed loop. Webbing is a versatile tool that allows the firefighter to have options when it comes to things like dragging a person out of a residential structure fire, large area search, holding open doors on a car during auto extrication calls, dragging large diameter hose when charged with water to remove kinks, etc. Webbing is light and can be rolled up and placed inside a medical glove for easy storage and deployment.
The next item is a window punch. This will be used at all auto extrication calls. Whenever any extrication operation is mounted, the windows need to be removed. This will involve tempered glass and the window punch will be the perfect tool for the job. It is also small enough to fit inside the bottom of the coat pocket for easy access.
Along with the window punch is the seat belt cutter. This too will be used during the extrication sequence of an occupant from a vehicle. Many times, the seat belt cutter is stashed away in a toolbox, requiring a person to go and find it. When it is carried in the coat pocket of the firefighter however it is readily available.
Two other items that are useful for the vehicle accident calls are the adjustable wrench and the socket wrench with a 10 mm socket. The battery terminals of most vehicles can be easily loosened using a 10 mm socket. By doing this, the cables of the battery can be removed from the terminal and put back on if needed. The adjustable wrench is for when you encounter the odd-size battery terminal nuts.
The next item is personal escape rope. This personal tool is to be kept in the right side pant cargo pocket (if you are left-handed, then it will be kept on the left side). Personal escape rope is to be used when you are facing life or death and the only way out is to bail out of a window and descend to the ground. There are systems that can be rigged up to an existing pant class 2 harness to make the bailout system easier to use. The basic system is wrapping the rope around your back and with two hands in the front; holding onto the two ends, you roll out the window and descend to the ground. Of course this setup must be anchored to something in the room or on the structure.
The next item is a small straight screwdriver with a long shaft or neck. This small tool is useful for resetting the pull stations at schools or other places. When an individual has pulled the pull station, it needs to be reset before the alarm panel can be reset; this will involve the small screwdriver to hold down the tab so that you can push the pull tab back into place.
The last item are small nails wrapped with an elastic band. These nails are used as door chocks to hold open doors. They can be placed between the door and the door hinge by positioning the one end of the nail on the hinge screw head and the other end of the nail against the door. Nails are smaller and easier to carry then wooden door chocks; for every one door chock you can have 10 small nails.
A lot of firefighters will also have a personal kit bag that they will carry with them on calls or on the fire truck they are assigned to for the day. This small bag will contain items that are needed that cannot be carried on the firefighter all the time. In my personal kit bag, I carry the following (see photo 3):
While this list is not an exhaustive or complete list, they are the items that I do use most and have a need for on a continual basis. Your inventory will be different based upon the types of calls that you respond to, the climate and environment that are prevalent in your area, and personal preference.
Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1999 and is a firefighter with the Fort Gratiot (MI) Fire Department. He is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States, and India, and at FDIC. He is also the lead author of Residential Fire Rescue (Fire Engineering Books & Video). He can be contacted at Mark@FireStarTraining.com.