The Tools Of The Firefighter’s Trade

Firefighters use various tools and equipment, some used almost daily and some rarely if at all. We shall have a look into this strange phenomenon.

Firefighters are exposed to flying and falling debris and need to be protected by a helmet and a face-mask/visor, specially designed for the purpose - what is traditionally called the ‘turnout gear’ - actually just a pair of trousers and jacket. The original term referred to these being kept adjacent to the bunk of the fireman, ready to be worn at need. While they may still be called as such, they are often called just jacket and pants.

Gloves which are fire retardant and specially designed for fire fighting, certified by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) are also very important gear. Steel soled and toed boots which are resistant to fire and water as well as chemical and pathogen retardant are the last to complete the external parts of the firefighter’s garb.

Below the above garb and closer to the body some other apparel that ensures that either steam or fire does not burn the firefighter, are also worn. Hoods made out of special Carbon and Nomex material are capable of resisting heat and flame. They are made out of meta aramid, a type of aramid Kevlar first produced by Dupont.

There are other items which enable the firefighter to do his job well rather than protect him from burns. Prime among them is the Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) that filters the air that the firefighter inhales when working among fumes, smoke and noxious gasses.

Another item is the Personal Alert Safety System (PASS), which is worn by the firefighter inside the premises on fire to alert those outside if help is needed. Either by manually activating it for help or not activating it for a long time, a signal is sent to those outside seeking help and the signal emitted enables the others to track the movement of the wearer.

A flashlight, a hand-held two-way radio and a pager complete the communications devices that the firefighter is equipped with. The pagers trigger responses if the firefighter is needed somewhere urgently.

A six to ten foot long pole called the pike pole was originally intended to pull down walls and ceilings to prevent the fire from spreading. Now it is used for creating openings in walls or ceilings as well as to break open shut windows and doors, and to pull things out of the fire.

A multipurpose tool with many heads called the halligan bar is used for punching holes, twisting material and prying open closed lids and doors. It contains in one unit, many heads such as a wedge, a claw, a crow bar etc. An authentic halligan bar is a single molded unit and not a rod with several heads welded on to it.

Some of the larger fire departments are also equipped with thermo graphic cameras. This is a camera that shows thermal imaging (infrared imaging) and is used to locate bodies in burning buildings not normally visible or in wrecked automobiles if there are trees nearby.

Only some of the equipment used by firefighters has been listed above to give an indication of the variety that they use in their job. From the list it would appear as though they have to carry a very big burden. Added to these there will be further items such as ropes and hoses. Add these to their own weight and you can sympathize with them when they simply collapse from exhaustion. Each piece of equipment is vital and quite when what will be of use in a fire is never known. Firefighters are trained to use all of them effectively and they keep attending refresher courses to keep abreast of new developments, equipments and to keep in practice.

All fire departments run regular drills and conduct training courses on an on going basis. As long as there is the possibility of a fire, there will always be need for highly trained and dedicated firefighters.