Two Hands, Two Tools


Sizing up the building’s rear with a halligan tool on a fire alarm call, the truck firefighters noticed water running out the back door. During door size-up, they could see hinges, indicating that it was an outward-opening door. A firefighter quickly inserted the halligan tool’s adz end into the gap between the door and the frame. Having nothing to strike the tool with to set it deeper into the gap, the firefighter used his hand to hit it. When flesh hit metal, pain instantly shot through the firefighter’s palm and wrist. Sound familiar?

In numerous truck company operations classes, it is drilled into students’ heads that when you get off the truck you’d better have a tool with you. Many departments still preach this creed and abide by it today, while other departments have standardized riding positions and tools assignments. For example, firefighters assigned to the “irons” position normally carry a halligan tool, an ax or a maul, and possibly a hydraulic forcible entry tool.

So what happens when firefighters aren’t assigned to the forcible entry position? Many firefighters carry only one tool, whether it’s a favorite hand tool or a hook. The problem with carrying only one tool is that you are limited to the things you can accomplish with that tool or to the areas in which you will be able to work with that tool. How many times have you tried to overhaul in a tight space such as a closet with a six-foot hook? The hook’s length often makes this a difficult and impractical operation to perform.

Many of you have been taught that if one firefighter brings one type of tool, then you should bring a tool that complements that tool. So does that mean if one firefighter brings a halligan, you should bring an ax? What happens when you get inside and need to open the ceiling and its height is more than eight feet and difficult to reach with either the halligan or the ax? Probably someone is going to make a trip back to the apparatus to retrieve what you need or, if you’re lucky, you can use the radio and have the chauffeur bring another tool. (Of course, that’s if the chauffeur is not tied up with other duties.)

Perhaps it’s time for firefighters to adopt a new rule or philosophy: “Two Hands, Two Tools.” When you are assigned a riding position on the truck company apparatus, make sure you are carrying a tool in each hand. If the irons firefighter is carrying a set of forcible entry tools, the other firefighter should step off the apparatus with a proper size hook (depending on the type, size, and characteristics of the structure) and another hand tool. That tool can be a halligan, an ax, a multipurpose tool, a demolition bar, or any other hand tool that is part of your arsenal.

If someone takes a hook, you at least know that he can open the ceiling or push it down from the roof. In addition, if the hook is too long to fit into an area, the firefighter can quickly revert to using the smaller hand tool to accomplish the same task without delay.

There are a few rules to follow when operating with two tools.

First, if you’re using your hook to open up a ceiling or a wall, don’t lay your hand tool down on the bed or floor. Place it into the wall so that you don’t lose it among the debris. If you’re removing the baseboard molding with the hand tool, hang the hook into the wall or onto the door or its hinges or even in a closet. Don’t lean it up against the wall; it most likely will slide down or someone will knock into it and it can hit you or another firefighter.

Second, if you are assigned two tools, bring them on all types of runs including gas leaks, elevator extrications, and water leaks, to name a few. In older buildings, leaking water could have been rotting the floor beams for years. When opening the ceiling over the tub for water removal, that’s part of salvage work. The firefighter should stand in the doorframe for safety, using the hook’s reach. This is also true at fires: Many old cast-iron tubs may be set in concrete; if the floor joists are compromised, a collapse potential exists.

One of the tricks of the trade of carrying a hook and halligan is that they create another set of impromptu irons. Turn the hook upside down with its head pointed or resting on the ground. Then place your boot on the hook’s head, exerting downward pressure. Next, pivot the hook on the ground and force it into the halligan, striking it and driving it into position. You can use various types of hooks to accomplish this. Remember, it works a lot better than using your hand!

Carrying two tools with two hands is not meant to increase a firefighter’s workload; the idea is for firefighters to be able to handle a multitude of tasks—and, of course, carry a flashlight.

MICHAEL N. CIAMPO is a 23-year veteran of the fire service and a lieutenant in the Fire Department of New York. Previously, he served with the District of Columbia Fire Department. He has a bachelor’s degree in fire science from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. He is the lead instructor for the FDIC Portable Ladder H.O.T. program and an editorial advisory board member of Fire Engineering. He wrote the Portable Ladder chapter and co-authored the Ventilation chapter for Fire Engineering’s Handbook for Firefighter I and II (Fire Engineering, 2009) and is featured in “Training Minutes” truck company videos on


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