Overhaul and Salvage in Theory and Practice

Overhaul and Salvage in Theory and Practice

Part IX — The Tools of Salvage, Continued … Many Major and Minor Appliances Available for Efficient Salvage Operations

Editor’s Note: This chapter is a continuation of Part VIII which dealt with that prime essential to efficient salvage, the “cover” or tarpaulin. It will be evident from the following that outside of covers, which may be had in a variety of types, sizes and materials, with but few exceptions, such as educators, sawdust, squeegees, etc., the majority of the “tools” used in salvaging operations are to be found within the scope of standard fire department equipment. That is to say, most of such facilities have application in certain operations other than salvage, i.e., forcible entry, ventilating and overhauling.

It should be obvious, after reviewing this installment, that as in most fire extinguishing operations, salvage can be no better than the tools and equipment provided the men who must do the work. The wider the range of mechanical and other facilities available, and the greater the advance knowledge of the building and occupancy involved, the safer and more effective will be the salvaging job.

Finally, it should be added that the list of facilities given in the following is not all-embracive; many ingenious devices have been developed by salvage corpsmen and others, to improve such operations. Some of these have been described in past issues of FIRE ENGINEERING in the “Short Cuts & Gadgets” feature, or in the sections devoted to new products.

As before, the author has borrowed heavily from the writings of previously mentioned authorities on salvage. Special acknowledgement, however, is here paid to the Los Angeles Fire Department; the Ohio Trade and Education Service, Ohio State University; the Chicago Fire Insurance Patrol, and the National Board of Fire Underwriters for their invaluable assistance.

WHAT is a workman without his tools? The answer fits the salvaging situation as well as all other fields of endeavor.

Not only do efficient salvaging operations depend upon having the proper mechanical and other facilities available for the respective tasks to be done, but they depend somewhat also upon taking advantage of conditions that may exist or be encountered during the period of operations; for example, utilizing construction features to rid areas of accumulated water or smoke, etc.

This is to say, a reasonable degree of ingenuity, of mental perception and adaptability, should be in the “kit” of every serious-minded salvage corpsman. The author can enumerate the mechanical tools, but ingenuity is a purely personal and physical attribute and can only be developed by training, study and experience in this particular field of endeavor.

It will be noted in the following that we have attempted not only to catalog the wide range of equipment used in salvaging operations, but have endeavored to relate the individual pieces of equipment or tools, to their respective and more common uses. The reader may, and quite conceivably can, suggest other applications.

A final prefatory note: The application of the mechanical and other facilities enumerated herein are grouped under two main classifications, (1) their use to facilitate salvaging operations while the fire is in progress and (2) after the fire is extinguished.

The inclusion in our list of a number of what may be termed standard fire department tools and appliances suggests that the tasks of forcible entry and overhauling are closely interrelated to salvaging operations. They are indeed. In addition, many salvage patrols and squads carry not only a full line of forcible entry tools, but portable first aid fire extinguishing appliances Many fires have been encountered and extinguished by the Underwriters fire patrol units, which were incidental to their routine salvaging operations. Although not included herein among the tools of the salvage corpsman. first aid fire extinguishers nevertheless are a most valuable adjunct.

Another bit of equipment, not directly identified with salvaging operations, is the medical first aid kit. No squad or patrol, or other unit performing salvaging duties, should be without it. Salvage involves many manual operations that expose the operators to injury, both minor and major. It is good judgment to have ample first aid facilities immediately available on the scene of the emergency. It is advisable, also, to school salvage corpsmen in at least the fundamentals of first aid work.

A cover storage rack and some tools of the salvage patrol. This illustrates the more important equipment used in modern salvage operations. Small fire departments which do salvage work do not necessarily require, all of this equipment. (1) 5 kw generator; (2) floodlight; (3) extension cable (200 ft.); (4) electric pump (10,000 gph); (5) portable fan; (6) nail box; (7) siphon; (8) sprinkler heads and wrenches; (9) electric fan deodorizer; (10) first aid kit; (11) small extension light; (12) sprinkler tongs; (13) gasoline pump; (14) electric saw; (15) officer’s hand light; (16) electric sump pump; (17) electric apger (cutters up to 6 inches diameter); (18) collapsible ladder; (19) roll tar paper; (20) hand pump; (21) bttoom; (22) shovel; (23) axe; (24) hand saw; (25) squeegee; (26) door opener: (27) pick maul; (28) wooden shovel; (29) stretcher; (30) patching tape; (31) pike pole.

Photo courtesy National Board of Fire Underwriters

One of the New York Fire Deportment's Civil Defense pumpers pumping out store basement at Danbury, Conn., during recent flood. Most fire departments use only spare or reserve apparatus for such service.

Operations During a Fire

Before setting forth the tools and equipment generally employed for salvaging operations, it is advisable to briefly review those operations, and what they entail. Most of these details have been covered in earlier Chapters, but we summarize them here for convenience under two broad classifications:

First, the salvaging operations during the progress of a fire. These operations may consist of one or more of the following:

  1. Covering of stock, furniture, fixtures, machinery etc., with waterproof covers to protect against damage from water and debris incidental to fire extinguishment and overhaul operations.
  2. The use of waterproof covers to serve as catch-alls, basins, or dams, for collecting and containing water (“bagging” of floors, etc.).
  3. Ventilating the structure or area, both for protection of men working, and property involved.
  4. Controlling the flow of water from sprinkler systems (where advisable).
  5. Removing contents of a building where it is not feasible or possible to provide protection against water or other damage, or to prevent involvement of exposed perishables by fire.

Repeating an earlier statement, salvaging operations need not necessarily await extinguishment, or even control, of a fire. Frequently, the application of salvage practices are possible to some degree even before extinguishing operations are well under way. This may, and usually will, involve opening up to reach valuable stocks, and/or perishables. However, such operations should be teamed up with fire control strategy and care should be used to see that any such pre-extinguishing efforts do not, or cannot, contribute toward spread of the fire.

Again, we repeat: the most effective salvaging is accomplished where salvage crews and fire extinguishing crews work as teams.

Post-Fire Salvage

Secondly, salvaging operations after a fire may consist of the following:

  1. Removal of water from floors, basements or other areas, or from stocks or furnishings in those areas.
  2. Removal of smoke and/or odors from premises involved by fire or ex plosion, or subject to exposure by fire, penetration of smoke, etc.
  3. Removal of debris and damaged stock or materials from a building or area.
  4. Drying stock, or rehabilitating furnishings, machinery, etc.
  5. Re-activating sprinkler systems.
  6. Providing temporary protective covering for roof or other structural openings, or for exposed stock or storage to provide protection against the weather.
  7. Search for, locating and recovering articles or records of value.
Members of the New York Fire Patrol using squeegees to remove water from pressroom of New York Daily News following four-alarm fire.The practice of utilizing regulation fire pumpers for dewatering flooded, fouled basements and other areas is frowned upon. Instead, this type of siphon or eductor does the job without injury to pump.

This list could be lengthened, but these are the fundamentals of post-fire salvaging operations. Nor are these operations necessarily incident to fire. Many of them are called for to meet flood, explosion, building-collapse or other emergency situation.

List of Salvage Equipment

The equipment needed by a fire department in salvage operations varies with local conditions. In cities where salvage companies are operated by boards of underwriters, they must depend in large measure upon their own resources; and their tools and equipment therefore, are carried independently of the fire department in order to avoid possible complications that might arise from borrowing equipment. For this reason the list of facilities carried by individual underwriters salvage corps and squads is larger than may be required where salvage operations are performed by regular fire department units.

In the following list of equipment, those items indicated thus (*) are usually found as regular equipment on fire department apparatus.


Cover wedges

Tar Paper



This operation of installing a ballooned cover hung from the ceiling to chute water out of nearby window illustrates the use of short ladder (in this case, aluminum).

photo courtesy Underwriters Fire Patrol, Kansas City


Brooms (corn and wire)

Scoops, wooden

Shovels, steel




Mop wringer

Canvas pick-up bag (Catch-all)

Sash cord, 50 ft. length


*Hatchet (or Pompier axe)

Stilson (Pipe) wrench Monkey wrench Pails

Hammers and nails (shingle)


Punch and chisel

Sewer drain guard (Soil pipe strainer)

Pipe plugs and caps (assorted)

Sprinkler heads, stops and wrenches

Bale hook

Set of pass keys

Water Siphon ejector

*Door opener

*Portable electric generator

* Floodlights

* Flashlights

* Officers handlights

*Electric blower (Circulator)

* Smoke remover (Ejector)

* Hand saw

Power saw

* Ladders (Folding; short extension)

* First aid kit

* Pitcbfork

Application of Equipment

Covers: See Part VIII, Nov. Fire Engineering.

Cover Wedges: Small triangular wooden wedges, six to eight inches long, for holding salvage covers in place viz. between shelving and wall. Also useful to hold doors open.

Tar Paper: Extremely useful in covering roof holes and other openings. One roll of cheapest quality usually suffices.

Laths: To hold patches of tar paper over openings exposed to the weather. laths are necessary in addition to short nails, as the covering is more tightly held over the opening and loosening by the wind is forestalled. Laths may also be used to hold down old tarpaulins with less nail holes and damage.

Covers protect stock; sawdust picks up moisture from floor; portable batteries provide light, as salvage corpsmen tack up covers to bag and chute water seepage from above.

Photo courtesy Los Angeles Fire Department

Sawdust: For use in constructing dams and channels to control flow of excess water. Also a help in absorbing excess water from floors and out-ofthe-way corners. One hag is usually sufficient for an average operation.

Squeegees and Brooms: Used to remove surplus water from floors. The broom, particularly the wire broom, is also useful in cleaning up and removing plaster and other debris.

Scoops—Wooden: Preferred to steel by many for removing excess water front floors and catch-alls because they will not cut or scratch covers, rugs and flooring where a steel scoop might.

In this fire, sawdust keeps excess water from elevator shaft. Covers protect storage (right). Note use of S hooks on cover protecting shaft opening.

Photo courtesy Los Angeles fire Department

One of a type of electric air circulators being used by the Cincinnati, Ohio, Underwriters Salvage Corps to rid basement of smoke and fumes. The modern corps carries several types of smoke ejectors and air circulators, both electric and gasoline powered.

Photo courtesy Cicinnati Underwriters Salvage Corps

Shovels—Steel: For cleaning up debris, digging into wreckage, etc. Sometimes used in removing shingles from roofs or siding, although a steel spade is better for this purpose.

Sponges and Chamois: Come in tor frequent use following fire where furniture and polished surfaces must be wiped and dried to prevent warping and the ruin to finishes. Sponges can also be used for removing water from corners and inaccessible places.

Mops and Mop Wringer: Useful in final cleanup and removal of moisture from floors.

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Pick-up Bag (Canvas carry-all): Has many uses, primarily that of removing debris; facilitating sorting out of valuables.

Sash Cord (Usually 50-ft. length preferred). Useful for tiebacks; securing covers; building; guide-line; signal-line for wearers of masks, etc. Many salvage corps carry a supply of short pieces of heavy cord, or clothes line, which can he fastened to grommets of covers, for securing.

S-Hooks: Plentiful supply of these should be carried for securing covers.

Hammer and Nails—and Hatchet: For tacking down coverings; temporary chutes; tapping plugs, etc.

Pails: Multitude of uses besides removal of excess water. The 12-qt. size is preferred.

Auger: Although not frequently used, the auger is valuable in providing emergency drainage openings to release surplus water, and in making initial holes so that saws may be used to open up flooring. The 2-in. bit is the most widely used type. Some departments have power augers.

Punch and Chisel: These tools are self-descriptive and although seldom used, they deserve a place in salvage equipment.

Sewer drain guard (Strainer): In a fire of any duration, debris of various kinds is washed down to the floor drains. In order to facilitate escape of water through drains, it is important these be kept clear, and drain guards, or strainers, have been found a great help it. permitting water to get to the sewer line and away.

Pipe plugs and caps: A box of assorted pipe plugs and caps may be useful in minimizing water damage due to ruptured water, steam, chemical or sewer pipes.

Sprinkler heads, stops and wrenches: Where sprinkler systems are encountered in fighting a fire, temporary stops are often necessary to shut off the flow of water from heads until valves can be closed. There are many different kinds of stops, the most inexpensive and simple to make take the form of wooden wedges. The wrenches and sprinkler heads are naturally used for replacing heads.

Bale hook (Hay hook): Useful in moving baled and boxed goods, bundles, etc.

Pass Keys: Skeleton keys of various sorts may save considerable property damage which would otherwise result if doors have to be forced.

Water Siphon Ejector (Eductor): Particularly valuable in dewatering basements which may be filled with dirty water. Can be used with hydrant streams where pressure is sufficient.

Door Opener: There are several makes. A useful forcible entry tool. One type can be used as a hose clamp.

Portable Electric Generator. Invaluable for providing light and power for electric tools.

Floodlights: Essential, in lighting up areas to be overhauled, and facilitating salvaging operations.

Flashlights: The small hand type should be carried by every salvage man. There should also be a plentiful supply on the apparatus.

Hand Lights (Officers): A step above flashlights in range and life. There are many types, most of which can be used also as stationary lights.

Electric Blower (Circulators): To remove smoke and fumes from an area and replace with fresh air; there are also efficient gasoline powered blowers and circulators. Also used for drying.

Smoke Remover (Ejector): A powered air-mover, for ventilating contaminated areas. Both electric and gasoline driven.

Saws: May come in for miscellaneous uses in making openings: breaching; making salvage repairs, etc. More recently, power saws of various types have come into general use, some of which may be operated by portable generators.

Ladders: Short ladders, not over 20 ft., are a valuable adjunct in salvage work. Sometimes step-ladders can be found in the involved occupancy, but salvagemen cannot count on this and should be able to provide their own. The short extension and the folding ladders are particularly useful in reaching sprinkler heads; setting covers on high shelving; covering tops of piled storages, etc.

First Aid Kit: An essential in salvage and overhaul as well as fire fighting operations.

Pitchfork: Not as commonly used as formerly but many departments continue to carry them. Used in overhauling debris; opening up baled goods; removing old shingles, etc.

In conclusion, it should be pointed out that all these tools are not required for simple salvage operations, such as the average fire department encounters in most fire incidents. The small department may get along at the outset with a minimum of these facilities, and add to them as it becomes apparent that their cost will be justified by reduction in fire losses and the creating of more good will among the local citizenry.

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