For firefighters to be effective on the fireground, we must rely on the tools of our trade. These tricks are just some of the many examples of how today’s firefighters are always pushing ahead to make things better. Before using any of these suggestions, make sure they are approved by your department’s administration. Run them by your officer; discuss them around the kitchen table. Remember that modifying tools or using them for a purpose for which they were not designed can void the warranty and may expose you to injury.


When operating above the second or third floor in a fire, getting air up to the forward staging area can be exhausting. Grabbing the air bottles with your hands precludes your carrying a tool or a hose pack, and your hands will become fatigued in a short time and you will have to put down the bottles. A 10-foot-long piece of rope or one-inch webbing can make the job easier by distributing the weight of the bottles across your back and shoulders and keeping your hands free for balancing while going up the stairs and for carrying other equipment.

Place the rope or webbing, tied together with a water knot, around your neck (photos 1, 2). Form two loops, one on each end, by flipping the ends back onto the rope/webbing and pulling the main part through the loop. You will have a loop on each end that will fit around the neck of the air bottles. When you arrive at your destination, loosen the loops and remove the air bottles. The rope or webbing can be used for other purposes.

1. Photos by authors.





You can also use webbing for the following tasks:

To carry a tool: Place the webbing around the handle of the tool and pull the remainder of the webbing through the loop to make a girth hitch around the handle. Place the loop over your shoulder; adjust it by tying an overhand knot so the tool rests on your buttock area (photo 3).


To raise a tool, lower the webbing to another member, who applies a girth hitch around the handle or attaches a spring-loaded clip (similar to a carabiner) to the webbing and the tool.

To help advance a charged hoseline, apply a girth hitch around the hoseline and place the loop over your shoulder. You will be able to pull with your body, not just your hands and arms.

To remove kinks in large-diameter hoselines: Put a girth hitch around it, and pull out the kink instead of getting on your hands and knees to push or pull the kink (photo 4).


To extend your search pattern: One firefighter stays on the wall and holds the webbing in the other hand. The other firefighter holds the opposite end of the webbing and is four to five feet farther into the center of the room. This allows the search team to cover a larger area that might otherwise be missed.

To rescue one of our own: With the webbing tied in a loop, rescuing firefighters can slip the webbing around one or both shoulder straps of the SCBA and drag the firefighter out of the building (photos 5, 6). Two firefighters can use the webbing; each will have a handle. Or, one firefighter can slip the webbing over his shoulder and pull with his body instead of his hands. The downed firefighter’s waist strap needs to be modified to go between the legs so the SCBA will not be pulled off the firefighter’s body. If the waist straps are not long enough, the webbing can be used to create a modified version of the waist strap (see “Removing a Downed Firefighter,” Training Notebook, Fire Engineering, January 2004) (photos 7, 8).










If you need more power to move the line than that provided by tying a girth hitch around the line as described above, lay a short pike pole across the line and tie it on the line with the webbing using a modified clove hitch. Two firefighters, one on each side, can maneuver the line while it is still flowing water (photos 9, 10). This makes advancing a 2 1/2-inch line much easier. In the past, firefighters used this technique with a piece of equipment called a “single tree.”






In a Mayday situation, if we can get the downed firefighter air, we buy him time. However, sometimes in our haste, the new SCBA or RIT pack is laid on the firefighter or placed between his legs and not secured. As we move the firefighter, the RIT pack or SCBA slides off and is dragged along with the firefighter in our attempt to remove him. When this happens, the face piece is dislodged from the downed firefighter’s face, interfering with his air supply.

Secure the SCBA or RIT pack on the firefighter with a stretcher strap. Loop the stretcher strap together, and put it with your RIT gear. When the time comes, simply unbuckle the strap and wrap it around the firefighter’s legs or through the SCBA straps and through the RIT or SCBA. Pull on the loose end to secure the pack to the downed firefighter. Next, take a prusik cord and a carabiner, and put a girth hitch on the carabiner. Wrap the prusik cord around the regulator hose of the new SCBA or the RIT pack two to three times. Pull it down so that it is secure on the regulator hose. Attach the carabiner to the firefighter so that if the new pack falls off, the pull is on the regulator hose and not the face piece. This way, the face piece will stay on the firefighter and he will continue to receive air (photos 11-14).










The type and style of your tools will dictate where you carry these tools. You will have to experiment to figure what works best for you. Some of the tools we recommend you carry are side cutting pliers, tin snips, a combination screw driver, a door chock, a spring-loaded center punch, a lock strap, a marking instrument, and a piece of webbing (photo 15).


We found that a side cutting pliers with hot-riveted joint, induction hardened cutting blades, and precision hardened metal handles approximately nine to 10 inches long works best for cutting the amount and thickness of the materials you may encounter.

The tin snips are needed to cut the material the side cutting pliers cannot cut, such as ceiling grids, sheet metal, or tin ceiling panels. The snips should be compound action snips with nonslip serrated jaws (see: “The Hazards of Suspended Ceilings,” Fire Engineering, January 2005).

A good combination screwdriver (straight and Phillips™) is needed to remove covers and disassemble machinery.

A door chock is a must. Many places sell chocks, but it is easy to make your own from scrap pieces of wood. How often have you seen a tool placed under the door to keep it open? Is this really the best use of your halligan or ax? Those tools need to be with you in case you need to force entry or exit somewhere in the building. Place a chock in each pocket so you can reach into either pocket and have one available.

Many businesses have tempered glass in their display windows, and some homes have them in nonopening windows. It will take a sharp point with an impact to shatter this glass. If you don’t have a halligan or a pickhead ax with you on the hoseline, a spring-loaded center punch in your pocket could make the difference. It also can be used in a variety of situations when working with automobiles.

A lock strap is a small piece of inner tube cut into a capsule shape with a circle cut at each end. The circles allow the strap to be placed over the inside and outside doorknobs; the middle part of the strap holds the locking mechanism in, preventing the door from locking behind you. It also works as a great flashlight holder.

Use the marking instrument (markers, paint sticks) to mark the doors of the areas you have searched. Each department has to develop a marking system that works for it and the departments with which they respond. We recommend a highly visible color that doesn’t wipe off easily. Keep it covered so your pocket is protected from ink/paint leakage.

Of course, the loop of webbing discussed above has many applications. Consider carrying a spare 9-volt battery for your voice amplifier and $20 cash, which you can carry in a self-closing plastic bag.


To expand the already long list of uses for the halligan, weld a link of chain on the handle near the forks. This will allow you to attach a rope or webbing and provide a weighty tool with some reach. For example, you could go to the roof, lower the halligan to the windows, keep that measurement, bring the tool back up, and then toss it off the roof. It will swing down into the windows and vent them for you. You can repeat the operation as many times as necessary (photo 16).


Another trick is to measure the depth of the door jambs in the buildings in your district, mark that distance on the halligan’s forks and adz by cutting a small groove with a hack saw (photo 17). This won’t affect the halligan, and the mark will be permanent. By having a reference point on the halligan, you will not bury the tool into the jamb. The full force of the tool will work on the door and not fight the jamb.




The maul and sledge are great companions for the halligan. They are excellent striking tools and have a little more weight behind them. As explained in Tricks of the Trade (Fire Engineering, June 2006), they are not just forcible entry tools but can also be used on the roof. In fact, some of our members like the maul better than the flathead ax. The problem with carrying these two together is that they do not marry very well. You can resolve this by welding a piece of metal on the head of the maul or sledge with a cutout for the adz to slip through. This will allow you to carry the tools as a set (photos 18-21).










To keep your hands away from the blade of your rescue saw while cutting a padlock or a chain, secure the vise grips onto the padlock or chain and hold the object to be cut at an angle. Welding a small section of chain onto the vise grips increases the degree of safety. Once the vise grips are secured to the object, hold onto the chain and pull the object to be cut. This same pair of vise grips can be used to prevent an overhead door from closing behind you. Simply close the vise grips onto the track of the overhead door. Always remember to pull the emergency release on doors with automatic door openers to prevent the motor from closing the door behind you (photos 22, 23).




STUART GRANT, a 28-year veteran of the fire service, is a battalion chief with Dallas (TX) Fire Rescue. He is certified as a master firefighter and fire instructor with the Texas Commission on Fire Protection. Stuart has served in many capacities within the department, including academy commander, haz mat officer, paramedic, and rope rescue member. He has been a H.O.T. instructor and speaker at FDIC and is an instructor at Collin County Community College in McKinney, Texas, and at the Texas A&M University Municipal Fire School. He has two associate’s degrees and a bachelor’s degree in fire administration.

LES STEPHENS, a 15-year veteran of the fire service, is a battalion chief with the Garland (TX) Fire Department. He is a certified master firefighter and an instructor with the Texas Commission on Fire Protection. He has served as his department’s training instructor and is an instructor at Collin County Community College in McKinney, Texas; FDIC; and Texas A&M University Municipal Fire School. He has an associate’s degree in fire protection from Tarrant County Community College.

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