It’s amazing how many little “tricks” firefighters from across the country have created. All in their own way make a firefighter’s job a little easier, safer, or more efficient. When you cut to the chase, these tricks are just some of the many examples of how today’s firefighters are always pushing ahead to make things better. That’s what makes firefighters some of the best folks on earth: They never sit still; they’re always looking for a “better way.” None of the “tricks” presented here are intended to create an unsafe situation or change the way you do things. They are offered to help you do things better and to make things easier. If you don’t feel comfortable with a “trick,” don’t use it. If you are not sure that it will fit your organization’s operation, ask a boss.


Generally speaking, most firefighters agree that space in turnout pockets should be reserved for items that could save your life. Miscellaneous items floating around your bunker pockets can damage your turnout gear and add extra weight and bulk to your already weighted-down body.

One item that seems universally accepted for a coat pocket is a short length of webbing. It takes up minimal room, can be easily stored and deployed, and can be used for a multitude of tasks. Select the webbing according to the uses you intend for it. It does not need to be the highest quality webbing, such as that used for rope work. It just needs to be strong enough for the purposes for which you will use it. Check your local hardware store for good, yet less expensive, webbing. Always remember the strength of your webbing, and never exceed the use for which it was designed.

A 10-foot piece of webbing tied into a loop can serve a variety of purposes. You can use it as a hauling device for a victim or downed firefighter; you can loop it around the individual’s hands in a self-tightening loop (photos 1-2) or under the arms and behind the back (photo 3). Walking ahead, you could pull the victim or firefighter forward while staying low to the ground. In the case of a downed firefighter, it could be slid under the SCBA straps, enabling you to pull the firefighter while staying a little ahead of him so you don’t pull him onto your feet (photo 4). If you must pull the victim up a stairway, the webbing will allow you to stay far enough ahead so you don’t pull the victim up and onto your feet on the stair above.

Photo 1
Photos by author


Photo 2


Photo 3


Photo 4

There are many ways to use webbing to remove a victim or downed firefighter. Gear up and practice all of the different ways before an emergency arises. After you get reasonably competent in using the webbing, practice the methods in limited or zero visibility, the conditions you are likely to be working in when you need to use it. Create new ways to use your web loop. There’s no right or wrong way, just as long as the method works and doesn’t further injure the victim or downed firefighter.

Webbing can also be used to control a door when forcing it open (you never know what’s on the other side). Fire, Fido, and unhappy occupants can provide a serious threat to the forcible entry team when the door is forced. To control an inward-opening door, loop your webbing around the doorknob before you force the door open (photo 5). Once the door is “popped,” hold it closed until you are ready to open it in a controlled manner.

Photo 5

You can use your webbing to provide “an extra hand” for carrying equipment. Instead of being able to carry only two spare SCBA bottles, one in each hand, you can carry four bottles by using your webbing (photo 6).

Photo 6

Webbing has a multitude of other uses: securing hose rolls, hauling a tool up to the window, maintaining contact with your partner, hose straps, securing a ladder tip or base to a structure, holding a self-closing door open, among them. It can also be used to secure a rolled-up burnt mattress while removing it from a room. Make sure the fire is out before you start moving a mattress from a room, or the sudden introduction of oxygen may cause the mattress to light up.


To protect your turnout pocket from sharp edges, take a short length of 13/4-inch hose, tape one end closed, and store your selected tools inside this homemade “pouch” (photo 7). In photo 8, note the homemade “shove” knife made from a putty knife. With a grinding wheel, grind a notch in it; ensure there are no sharp edges. You can use this simple tool as your key for many locked doors. Thanks to Captain Bobby Benz of the New Rochelle (NY) Fire Department.

Photo 7, by Bobby Benz, New Rochelle (NY) Fire Department – published with permission.


Photo 8

Another handy tool to store in this pouch is a pair of heavy-duty wire cutters. As drop ceilings continue to gain in popularity in renovated structures and new construction, the risk they pose to firefighters continues to increase. Their supporting wires and the multitude of other wires hidden above these ceilings can quickly cause a firefighter to become snarled as these wires drop. Do not cut corners when choosing wire cutters; buy high-quality cutters that will cut through whatever you may encounter.

A less expensive version of a shove knife uses an old coffee can plastic top. Cut the outer ridge off the entire circumference of the top, and cut a notch in the plastic top so it resembles a Pac-Man™ (photo 9). This simple device can also be your key through selected doors, including those in housing projects. Thanks to Deputy Chief Tom Duffy of the Mt. Vernon (NY) Fire Department.

Photo 9

With firefighter rescue such a hot topic, the standard pocket knife has become a common item in many firefighters’ pockets. This is not the place for your old scout knife. Get one that is sharp, big enough for the job, and easy to open. Opening a knife can be very challenging with gloves on. Try welding a dime onto the top of the blade to give you a place to grab the blade (photo 10). Thanks to Joe DeFrancisco, fire coordinator, Madison County, New York.

Photo 10

Another popular item many of today’s firefighters carry is the door chock. As a general rule, no firefighter should ever advance a hoseline through a self-closing door without making sure the door stays open (photo 11). Although an ax or a bar can effectively keep a door open, you lose the service of that tool as you advance farther. Rather than putting your chock in a pocket, where it will quickly find its way to the bottom, secure it where you can easily get it when you need it. Drill a hole through it, and secure it to your coat or SCBA using a plastic tie normally used to hold the pin in a fire extinguisher (photo 12). You can easily free it from the coat or SCBA with a quick tug, but it will stay attached when you don’t need it. If you’re squeezing through a tight spot and it hits something, the tie will break so you aren’t snagged.

Photo 11


Photo 12
by F. J. Spinelli, Hartsdale (NY) Fire Department- published with permission.



The tops of bunker boots have a tendency to collapse inward when not being worn. A quick and easy way to keep them round is to insert a pair of two-liter soda bottles or coffee cans inside them when they are not being used (photo 13). The bottles or cans can be tied together with a short length of rope to facilitate their quick removal. This is a carry-over from the days of day boots that had a strong tendency to lose their shape at the top. Thanks to Dave Lincoln, New York State fire instructor and member of the New York State Emergency Management Office.

Photo 13



Unquestionably, one of the most valuable things a firefighter brings into a fire is a charged hoseline. From day 1, every firefighter is taught to never leave the hoseline. But “stuff” happens. Many nozzles are black, which makes them more difficult to locate in limited or zero visibility. So help yourself to find your way back to the nozzle if you “lose” it. Make your nozzle more visible by putting bright tape on parts of it (photo 14). Reflective tape works even better. Or you can paint the cone a bright color. Make sure the tape or paint does not impede the operation of the nozzle. Granted, the tape and paint will get dirty and wear off quickly, but how long does it take to repair or replace it?

Photo 14

A nozzle should be one of the easiest things to see on the fireground. Consider placing a bright stripe on the nozzle cone to indicate the straight stream pattern. Or place a notch in the top of the cone to indicate the straight stream position. Now, even in zero visibility and with a gloved hand, you can be assured that you’re in the straight stream position before you open the nozzle. Granted, this is one of the things you should always check before entering, but it is not unheard of for a nozzle pattern to get changed as it is dragged through a structure.


A tried and proven method to keep a door or window open involves a nail. For wood and lighter metal doors, put the head of a 10-penny nail in the jamb and the point of the nail into the edge of the door, apply a little pressure to get the nail to puncture the door edge, and you have a “chock” that does not fall out when someone hits the door or the hoseline rubs on it (photo 15). Masonry nails also work well and are often a little easier to handle with a gloved hand. For windows that will not stay “up,” slide a nail up between the window edge and the track to jam it up. Thanks to Firefighter Matt “Murph” Stone, Mt. Vernon (NY) Fire Department.

Photo 15



Emergency scenes are inherently noisy places. So, why do many departments conduct their training in a quiet setting? It is easy to create some noise for a training exercise. Grab a laptop, and get ready to record some sounds. Now ask a few firefighters to make noise; they’ll gladly accommodate you. Have them run saws, hit a piece of wood with a maul, blow the siren, scream, run a loud engine, activate a smoke detector, or recreate the sound of a fire alarm system. Have them do this for a short time. Save it as a computer sound file; copy and paste the clip onto its end to make it larger. Do this a few times, and resave the sound file as a larger (longer) file. Now convert it to a sound file that will play in a boom box, and burn it to a CD. Bring your boom box and this CD to your next training exercise-mask confidence, search, or hoseline advancement, for example-and play it using the repeat feature so it keeps playing.

The noise challenges the firefighters to communicate in high noise levels. You can also take it to the next level and make specific sounds on the file and have your members interpret what they mean. A good example is a saw revving up on the roof. Hearing this tells them vertical vent operations have been started. Breaking glass tells them horizontal ventilation is being conducted; a gasoline fan running tells them PPV has been started (and also tells them where a door is).

If you want to be even more creative, you can save these sound files on your laptop and play specific files at specific times: glass breaking, saw running, and so on. There are a number of reasonably priced wireless battery-powered speakers you can place throughout a training site to play the sound through. Or you can get a few of the inexpensive “FRS” family portable radios, place them throughout the structure, and transmit your sounds through them using another radio. You are limited only by your imagination.


Portable radios are a vital safety item on the fireground. Every firefighter needs to know what’s going on at all times and also must be able to send an appropriate progress report or, more importantly, request help when needed. This radio chatter, like it or not, provides a constant level of distraction for every firefighter operating at the scene. They all need to be able to continue to function while listening to what is being said in case it affects them. This is often easier said than done. So, at your next drill, while everybody is doing what they’re supposed to be doing, have somebody start asking questions on the radio of each firefighter or team. Ask basic questions they all should know but that would cause them to pause for a second to think of the answer. Ask things like a building address, friction loss, nozzle stats, or the location of a piece of equipment on a rig. This challenges them to continue to operate while thinking and answering-multitasking at its best.

A variation of this exercise has the training officer placing playing cards throughout the building being used for the search drill. As each team finds a card, it must read it and report what card was found and where it was found to the appropriate person by radio. You can put a wild twist on this and turn it into a poker game; any team that needs the card that has been found and announced can transmit that it wants that card. This is a far cry from a fireground, but it provides a unique challenge to interior personnel, pushing them to perform a very thorough search while monitoring the radio traffic for important information and conducting basic interior operations. Of course, it also reinforces the importance of each radio transmission to ensure it is clearly understood, a feat that is often difficult when wearing SCBA.


Many departments have firmly embraced the gasoline-powered fans for PPV, but the electric fan still is widely used, often in the overhaul stages of a fire, where you don’t want the carbon monoxide or the noise of the gasoline-powered fan, or when venting a flammable gas. Many older electric fans don’t have a bracket that allows them to be angled as necessary for effective PPV. Using two short lengths of 2 × 4s, you can make a very effective “angler” for any electric fan. Take two lengths of 2 × 4s, each one the width of your fan. Screw them together so they form an “L” lengthwise. Now, depending on how you place them under the fan, you can angle the fan at any one of three angles (photo 16). Another way to approach this is to attach a length of aluminum I-beam to the top of the fan. During storage, the electric cord can be wrapped around the I-beam. When you go to set the fan up for PPV, turn the fan over; the I-beam props the fan up at the proper angle for PPV (photo 17). Thanks to Firefighter/Master Mechanic Joe Tarquinio, Firefighter Bill Porter, and Lieutenant Rick Andersen, Arlington Fire Department (Poughkeepsie, NY).

Photo 16


Photo 17


Help us make everybody operate better and safer. Got a trick you want to share? Don’t “assume” that because your department has used a ‘trick” for a few years that everybody else knows about it. The “trick” must be safe; make a task better, safer, or easier; not void any warranty; and not have been published in a book. Send the “tricks” to DKWALSH@OPTONLINE.NET. Credit will be given for ideas published.

DAVE WALSH spent 34 years in the fire service, 27 as a career firefighter. He is the chairperson/instructor for the fire science program at Dutchess Community College, NY; a state fire instructor at the New York State Academy of Fire Science; and an adjunct instructor for the New York State Emergency Management Office.

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