The Spanner Belt

By Richard A. Fritz

There is nothing new in the fire service. Firefighters with time “on the job” have seen tools and equipment go out of style, only to return as “new equipment” years later. Recently, the fire service has developed a renewed interest in tool belts or equipment belts. These belts are being used for everything—to carry equipment, as search aids during firefighter rescues, and as rapid intervention team (RIT) equipment.

Tool belts or “truckman’s belts” are not new equipment. They have been in use in the fire service for at least 75 years or more. Many departments across the country still issue and use them. Many more departments used to have these belts; but as the old guys retired, the belts went with them; and, like many fire department tools, the newer members stopped using them because they couldn’t remember how.

The spanner belt was the first belt to be slowly phased out. This belt is an extremely useful tool for firefighters assigned to an engine company. It can be used to do the following:

(1) Belts worn to carry tools are making a comeback in the fire service. (Photos by author.)


(2, 3, 4) The modern spanner belt with the spanner wrench and steel ring.




Help firefighters handle charged hoselines, especially 21/2-inch lines. The strap can be used to help absorb the nozzle reaction and allows firefighters to advance a 21/2-inch line instead of just loop it in the street.

  • Carry handlines, charged or uncharged, up a ground ladder, allowing the firefighter to use both hands while climbing.
  • Secure the tip of a ladder at a window.
  • Secure hoselines to ground ladders when the line must be operated from a ladder.
  • Extend search reach.
  • Rescue a firefighter or civilian.
  • Make hose connections.
  • Break tight hose connections.

(5) Wearing a spanner belt and carrying a folding spanner will ensure every firefighter has the capability of making and breaking hose connections.


(6) Wear the belt correctly.


(7, 8) You can use the spanner belt primarily to carry tools, mainly a flashlight.




The spanner belt has numerous uses on the fireground—it is more than just a place to carry an ax or to hang your flashlight and personal rope bag. Using a spanner belt also ensures that every engine firefighter has a spanner wrench with him at all times. When combined with that folding spanner wrench you should have in your pocket, even a single firefighter can make and break connections at fire department connections and standpipe outlets.

Spanner belts are made of leather, which is the more traditional style of belt, as well as tough nylon webbing. Fully extended, the belt measures approximately 62 inches from the ring to the tip of the spanner wrench. On one end is a 31/2-inch steel ring. The ring is large enough for the spanner wrench to pass through and be secured to the ring as a belt buckle. The spanner wrench is approximately nine inches long and is also steel. It is stout enough to withstand being used as a hammer, a glass breaker, a hook, and a wrench on stubborn fittings. You can adjust the size of the belt with an easy-to-manipulate steel buckle.

Wear the spanner belt around your waist, and adjust it so it is a little big. That way, it won’t compress your coat too much and reduce the thermal protection, but it will be snug enough so it won’t fall off and wrap around your feet when you walk. Many firefighters put the spanner belt on after they don their SCBA so that the belt is on top of the SCBA’s waist strap and can easily be removed for use or in case the belt becomes entangled. Fit adjustment is important if you are going to hang anything from the belt, such as a flashlight or rope bag. Fit is also important if you are going to use the belt to slide an ax in while climbing ladders.


You can use your spanner belt every day to carry tools, primarily a flashlight. Unlike a true “truckman’s belt,” the spanner belt does not have an extra steel ring on which to clip a light. Clip-on lights work, but then the light is in the wrong position for use—it is too low. Clip your flashlight to the large steel ring of the belt, and then slide the belt to the right or left so that the ring and spanner and attached light are off to one side, still available but not hanging directly in front. You may want to slide it to one side or the other even if you don’t hang a light on it. If you are moving in on a fire, you don’t want to be lying down on the wrench!

Use your spanner belt to help ease the backpressure when using big lines and staffing is light. You can easily handle a 21/2-inch handline alone if you use the spanner belt. Stand with your back to the nozzle and on the side of the line from which you are going to operate. Remove your belt. Adjust the belt so that there is a large loop between the spanner wrench and the adjustment buckle, large enough for you to get your shoulder firmly into the loop. Pass the ring end of the belt underneath the hose and then back toward you. Pass the spanner wrench through the ring, and form a bight. Open up the loop of the belt and put the arm closest to the hose through the loop and pull the loop up onto your shoulder. Move the spanner down the strap and out of the way. Turn and face in the same direction as the nozzle. Grasp the handline, and lean into the belt. Adjust the belt to provide maximum leverage. If you need to get away from the line for any reason, simply let go of the line and turn away from the line, allowing the belt to slide from your shoulder.

(9) Form a bight on the hose by passing the wrench through the ring.


(10) Pass the loop over the shoulder closest to the hose.


(11) Lean into the line and operate the nozzle.


(12, 13) You can use a spanner belt to secure a hoseline over a railing.




Climbing ladders is dangerous enough without trying to carry a hoseline up the ladder as well. The spanner belt allows firefighters to ascend the ladder using both hands.

To advance a dry hoseline up a ground ladder using a spanner belt, first advance enough dry hose to the base of the ladder to get you where you’re going. Flake the hose out so that it will advance easily. If you are the first firefighter to ascend, take the nozzle and drape it over your right shoulder so that the nozzle is in the middle of your back next to your SCBA bottle and the hose is draped across your chest and the dry line is on your left side. If you are the second firefighter or backup firefighter, find the middle of the lead section of hose. Remove your belt and pass the ring of the spanner belt underneath the dry line and back toward you. Pass the spanner wrench through the steel ring and form a bight. Open up the loop of the belt and place it over your left shoulder with the spanner wrench facing down. Succeeding firefighters perform the same procedure, with the third firefighter placing his belt at the first coupling, the fourth firefighter at the middle of the second length of hose, and so on.

As the nozzleman advances up the ladder, each firefighter spaces himself out. The dry line hangs on the left, outside the beam of the ladder. Each firefighter is able to climb using both hands. When you have reached the desired floor, advance sufficient hose into the window and onto the floor. Pull hose into the window until the next coupling is at the window. The firefighter at the coupling can secure the hose to the windowsill using the spanner belt.

You can also use the spanner belt as a hose strap to secure hoselines in operation on upper floors. Secure all handlines using a hose strap of some type, and the spanner belt fits the bill!

When you must pass a hoseline over a railing, use the spanner belt to secure the line so that it doesn’t slide back to the ground. Pull enough working line up and over the railing. Pass the ring end of the belt underneath the hose below the railing as far as you can reach. Pass the spanner wrench through the ring and form a bight. Secure the spanner wrench on the railing, tightening the belt to secure the hose.

(14) You can also use it to secure a hose to a ladder before operating a line in a window.


(15) Splicing two belts together allows firefighters to extend their reach during search or create a rescue strap for victim removal.


(16) Operating a hoseline for point advantage using a spanner belt.


There are times when the engine company must operate hoselines from ladders. This is a basic skill straight from your recruit manual. The spanner belt can help make this operation safer by securely fastening the handline to the ladder. To use the spanner belt in this operation, advance the hoseline up the ladder to the desired operating position. Lay the nozzle and about 10 to 12 inches of hose over the rung. Center the hoseline on the ladder. On the next rung below the nozzle, pass the ring end of the spanner belt underneath the hose and pass the spanner wrench through the ring, forming a bight. DO NOT form a bight over rung and hose, just on the hose. Lay the spanner wrench end of the belt over the top of the rung where the nozzle was placed. Reach through the rung and pull the spanner belt in under the ring and to the right of the belt, going over the rung. Cross over the hose, and then go under the nozzle rung again. Reach up and secure the spanner wrench one rung above where the nozzle is. If there is too much belt, twist the spanner wrench and put a twist in the belt to shorten it. Make sure the spanner belt is secure, and slowly charge the line. You can now operate the nozzle into the fire building.

There are other uses for the spanner belt that make it an invaluable tool for firefighters, especially those firefighters assigned to engine companies. You can splice the belt with another spanner belt to form a safety line that will allow you to extend your reach during searches. You can also use the belt to secure operating hoselines in windows of buildings next door to the fire building so that you can maintain a point advantage when operating lines from exposure buildings into the main fire building or from the fire building to protect exposures.

The spanner belt is another traditional tool passed down to us from generations of firefighters. It is certainly worth using if you are looking for a multipurpose tool belt.

RICHARD A. FRITZ, a 31-year veteran of the fire service, is battalion chief of training for the High Point (NC) Fire Department. He has served as program chairman for the Hazardous Materials Technical Program at Scott Community College in Bettendorf, Iowa; firefighting program director for the University of Illinois Fire Service Institute; and fire science program coordinator for Harrisburg Area Community College in Pennsylvania. Fritz is the author of the book Tools of the Trade: Firefighting Hand Tools and Their Use and the videos Tools of the Trade, #1: Cutting and Striking Tools, #2: Push/Pull Tools, #3: Prying Tools, and #4: Power Saws, published by Fire Engineering. He is an FDIC H.O.T. program coordinator.

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