Archive for the 'Tips' Category

Extending Your Hand, Not Your Tool

Searching with a tool is something that every firefighter needs to be proficient in. Unfortunately, like many of the essential fireground skills we must master, most fire schools do not teach real world search techniques. In particular, they don’t cover how to effectively search with a tool. One of the things we must consider when sweeping with the tool is that the tool has no feeling. It transmits to the firefighter the sensation of coming in contact with an object, but it gives no indication of what the object really is. This forces the firefighter to reach out further, potentially coming off of the wall, to verify what the tool struck. Besides the fact that this takes additional time, it could also cause significant, if not fatal damage to the very victim we are trying to save. A simple drill to illustrate this point would be to search for a large piece of fruit (watermelon, cantaloupe, etc.) Perform this search blacked out, swinging a tool as you search. As you can imagine, you will certainly find the melon, but more than likely speared it or beat it up in the process. It could be argued that sweeping with the non-working end of the tool may minimize the damage to the victim (or melon) but perhaps there is a better way.


Lets start off with discussing which hand you carry the tool in when you search. for this method it is best to carry the tool in the hand of the direction of the search pattern. Left hand search pattern = carry tool in left hand, right hand search pattern = carry the tool in your right hand. This places the tool against the wall, and minimizes the desire to swing and sweep into the room with the tool. When the searching firefighter feels the need to “extend” the search and sweep out into the room , the tool is paced against the wall and the firefighter places their foot on the tool.


As you can see from the pictures below, the firefighters reach into the room is the exact same regardless if the foot was on the wall and tool swept into the room or if the tool was placed on the wall and the firefighter stretched out into the room.



Another thing worth mentioning is that simple act of constantly swinging the tool out into the room actually contributes to firefight fatigue. It takes more energy to swing the tool back and forth than it would to just crawl with it.

Like everything else in the fire service, there is a time and a place were certain techniques should be used over another. This technique may or may not work well for you, but you will only know that after you take the time to train with it. Just keep in mind, when performing a search, you are looking for a viable human life in a very time sensitive manner. It is our duty to master the skill of the search and be able to complete the search in the most time sensitive (and least fatal way) possible.

In our next post we will build on this concept an show some additional things we should consider when performing this type of search.


Carrying Tools

We have always been advocates of riding assignments and tool assignments. It’s one of the easiest ways to improve your company’s efficiency and effectiveness on the fireground. Even if your department doesn’t believe in tool assignments, you probably find yourself carrying the same tools on most occasions. How much thought have you put into how you carry your tools? Do you carry them the same way every time? Are you truly maximizing how you carry them, and making it easier on yourself?

Below are some photos of an efficient method of carrying the tools assigned to the outside team on the Truck Company. In these photos you’ll see that the firefighter is carrying the most often needed tools for the outside team: ladder, hook, halligan, light, TIC, and saw.

Below is a photo of a tool assignment for a residential structure. You’ll notice this method allows for a “free hand” to utilize a TIC for additional recon. The TIC is extremely helpful for the outside team to read the building and determine the fires location if its not already vented from a window.


Below are photos of a tool assignment for a commercial structure. In this case the “free hand” is taken up carrying the saw. The TIC is still available for recon since its clipped on the air pack, but obviously the saw would need to be lowered to the ground first.



The trick with this particular carry method is how the halligan and hook are laid inside the beam of the ladder. This allows one hand to “clamp” the tools to the ladder, and essentially allows you to carry three tools in one hand. The beauty of this method is that once you get to the area where the ladder will be deployed, the hook and halligan can easily be dropped without fumbling around. Allowing the ladder to be thrown from the carry position without being lowered to the ground. Dropping the tools in the area of where the butt of the ladder will be once the ladder is in position will prevent you losing them in high grass situations. Keep in mind that the utilization of straps or clips to secure the tool would make this option a little more time consuming.

It is worth mentioning that this method works best with ladders that are stored on beam. This allows you to partially remove the ladder, place your tools on the inside of the beam, and then get your shoulder in position before taking on the weight of the ladder. Specifying your rig correctly also increases your fireground efficiency, but we’ll get into those specifics in a future post.


Even if this is not your choice of tools for your assignment, take the time to come up with the most efficient way to carry your tools. Keep in mind that having a free hand whenever possible gives you the most versatility for the unexpected situation or occasional need for a specific tool. We’d love to see (and show off) some of your tool carrying setups, email us at with some photos and details.


Strap That Can

In the hands of a well trained firefighter. The watercan can keep a tremendous amount of fire in check. But before the true effectiveness of the watercan can be achieved it has to be carried religiously. One of the easiest and most effective ways to ensure the watercan will be where it’s needed-when it needed is to modify it with a carrying strap.

Commercially made straps are the best option to make the can easier to carry. They typically come with an adjustable and removable shoulder strap. They also provide carrying handles along the side of the can for sliding the can while crawling.


A simple piece of webbing can also be used. The main problem with webbing is that it is non-adjustable and not easily removed or unclipped in an entanglement situation.

It’s always fun to raid the EMS supply room and piss-off the medics by taking a backboard strap and adapting it as a carry strap. This makes a cheap adjustable and removable strap. Seat belts can also be removed during the next junk yard extrication day and used in a similar fashion.

Our friend, Kyle A. Kosianowski from Sun Coast FOOLS sent us a picture of their can strap. They used an old set of bunker gear suspenders to make an adjustable carry strap.


One other difference worth mentioning from the homemade straps shown above is their attachment points. The webbing strap and backboard strap are secured to the can via a screw link and stainless steel hose clamp. The bunker gear strap is held on differently with split rings. Take a look at the bottom attachment point; certain styles of water cans have a visible collar exposed at the bottom. Two small holes can be drilled through the collar and a split ring or paracord can be fed trough to crate the attachment point. Obviously be cautious of where you drill into the can, we are not responsible for you missing the mark and creating a leaky can.


The commercially made strap is far superior to the homemade versions in many ways. Adjustability and multiple carry options are most notable. Even if the department wont provide the commercial straps, pitch in and buy it for yourselves, they are only about $30-$40.

Besides simply making it easier to carry, the most important aspect to using the water can is to train with it. Finding the most comfortable way to carry it while walking, and while crawling are certainly and individual preference. However, with some practice, it is even easy to perform a crawling search while having the can available to protect the search team if the need arises.

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Expose the Gap

In this video we demonstrate one way of gaining entry into an outward swinging double door. Before we get into the post we want to get something out of the way… Yes, we recognize this is a glass door and our plan “A” should simply be to take out the 6×8 inch glass, reach in and unlock the door. What if during your plan “A” efforts you reach in and realize the lock is keyed on the inside as well? This additional security measure is typical when glass is located near the lock. For the purpose of this post, we are simulating that plan “A” is not an option and we are going to force entry using conventional techniques.

One firefighter forces are not as difficult as they may seem. With a little practice, one man forcible entry is a very efficient use of man power on the fireground. With a quick size-up of the door in the video we notice it is an outward swinging double door with a slam latch married with a dead-bolt. With this particular occupancy being a hotel, we can strongly suspect some type of chain or bar latch towards eye level of the door (which can be easily defeated). Again, your plan “A” could be to take a glass panel, reach in and unlock the door, but we are moving on to plan “B”.

When dealing with outward swinging double doors we typically wouldn’t have any type of door stop, making it even easier for a one firefighter force. However, what we will typically find is some type of steel or aluminum strip placed over the space between the primary and secondary doors. If this piece (as shown in the video) can be removed, attack its connection points and force it off. If it’s part of the primary door then attempt to pry it away to expose the gap.

After we expose the gap, we can enlarge the gap with the use of an aluminum wedge or an axe. This makes setting the Halligan a lot easier for one firefighter to perform the force. Because this is an outward swinging double door we can simply drive the adze straight in without having to “steer” the Halligan around a door stop. Once the Halligan is set, it’s time to make the force, BE DYNAMIC! You are by yourself, remember force is multiplied the harder and faster you pry the Halligan! Like always get out and see what’s in your first due and train on real doors when you have the opportunity.

In this video we are using the ForceWedge from Daniel Troxell of TroxFire. The “ForceWedge” is a 5.5 inch by 1.5 inch high strength aluminum wedge that allows a firefighter to easily capture or wedge any gapping progress made during a forcible entry operation. Daniel is a solid brother that makes many other tools and forcible entry related props at a very affordable price. Check out his ForceWedge at

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Golf Ball RIT

Captain Shawn Royall from Charlotte Ladder Co. 23 sent in this idea to make sharing air in a RIT situation a bit easier. When training with their new packs they noticed that the pouches that contained the EBSS hose were a bit difficult to open with a gloved hand. They tried out a few ideas to solve the problem; two pictured here are a simple prussic loop, and a golf ball on a prussic.

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The nice thing about these designs is that they not only allow for the holster snaps to be opened quickly, but it also provides for positive contact with the working end of the hose from the beginning of the operation. It prevents the potential of opening the holster, the hose falling out and having to search for the working end.



Certainly one potential draw back to this design could be the potential snag or entanglement with the additional handle. As with anything, training with the new setup would be the key. What works for one doesn’t necessarily work for others, but you must train on what you have. Sometimes an out of the box idea may solve the problem at hand. This idea could certainly be adapted to the hoses on the RIT bag as well. The prussic set up and pictures courtesy of FF Deany Phillips of Rescue Co. 10-B and the golf ball design from Ladder Co. 23-A.


Homemade J-Tool

“Ferg” from Sacramento City (CA) Truck 2 sent in this awesome idea on how to create a simple J-tool for non-destructive forcible entry. It even gets some bonus points for being “green” since it almost counts as recycling or reusing. This idea utilizes the leftover political signs that can be found in every dumpster this time of year. The two most common types of signs have an “H” shape, and a “U” shaped galvanized wire frame. The easiest to use for this purpose are the U shape since it already has one of the required bends, but an H shaped one can also be utilized with some additional work.


Rather than throwing that “U” shaped one in the trash, tear the sign off, and take that frame over to the workbench. Place the frame in the vice, and begin bending it into shape. Before you commit to the exact size, you may want to consider what will fit in your bunker pant pocket. Use a hacksaw or saws-all to cut the excess material off. You may even want to file the edges down to make it real pro, your gear quartermaster will thank you….

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The completed tool will look like the photo below. For the discussion, we will consider the side with the extra bend the “working end.” This tool is designed for use on a double door with panic hardware. For the traditional panic bar style, you use the working end to “hook” the bar of the locking device. It simply opens by pulling the bar toward you.


Rotating the tool into place and placing the working end on the locking mechanism can also be used to manipulate the push pad style of panic hardware. Again, once the tool is in place, pulling on the tool will simulate someone pushing the pad from the inside and open the door.


A wood wedge makes a nice companion for the tool to widen the gap between some doors, or even just to keep the weather striping out of your way. While you’re out hunting for signs, keep the rest of the crew in mind. Make enough for everyone, and throw a few extras on the rig for good measure.


Like with many other non-destructive methods of forcible entry, this probably won’t be your go-to method on a working fire. However, options like this can simplify your life when chasing down sell-of-smoke type calls, and automatic fire alarm activations. With some practice, you’d be surprised how many different types of locking mechanisms can be manipulated and defeated with this tool. You simply need to take the time to Identify and Visualize what you are trying to defeat, and outsmart the locking mechanism.


Gas Leak: Grab n’ Goes

Every community is different in regards to their natural gas line infrastructure. Some departments have a large number of gas leaks and as a result have become very capable of handling the leaks prior to the arrival of the gas company.


Here is a quick and easy way of organizing your gas leak equipment. Its makes sizing up and grabbing the appropriate sized equipment a breeze. As you know from previous post here on VES we are all about organizing and carrying your equipment in the most efficient manner possible. Reducing the number of times we have to run back to the rig for more equipment during incidents has become somewhat of an art.

These Grab n’ Goes are made up of small sections of poly gas pipe. The diameter of the pipe is written on the pipe for easy identification. This helps make sure that everyone is communicating the correct size pipe when calling for additional equipment. The pipe section simply has wooden wedges inserted into the end, and a band clamp around the circumference. Besides just making the wedges and band clamps easier to carry, the Grab n’ Go can also be used to “size-up” the pipe size as shown in the photo below.



The information included in this post is only applicable to departments that are adequately trained and operate aggressively on natural gas leaks. The information contained in this post is purely supplemental, and should not be applied without appropriate training for responding to natural gas emergencies.

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Outboard Saw Conversion

The rotary saw equipped with a metal cutting blade is an extremely important tool for us to have in our forcible entry cache. There are a handful of modifications and conversions that we can apply to the saw to make it preform more efficient. The outboard saw conversion is one of the simplest and most effective modifications to make the saw a more versatile forcible entry tool. The outboard saw conversion involves moving the saw blade assembly to the right (or outboard) side of the saw body.


Have you ever tried cutting hinges on a outward opening metal door? Have you ever encountered a frameless glass door with a mortise lock that secures into the floor? The rotary saw is certainly a viable option for both of these situations. When utilizing a non-modified (stock) saw, it is difficult to line the saw blade perfectly perpendicular to a hinge or floor lock that is being defeated. As a result, the blade ends up cutting at an angle and tends to more likely bind up. The outboard saw conversion puts the blade flush with the saw’s body, allowing it to cut easy in tight places saving time and energy. Another situation where it may be beneficial to have an outboard saw is when cutting locks in recessed doorways.

If you have more then one metal cutting rotary saw on the rig, you should consider applying the outboard conversion to one of them. The conversion is still a viable option even if you only carry one metal cutting saw on your rig. The outboard saw gives us versatility while not compromising any other functions. The outboard saw still operates the same as a stock saw. There is however a noticeable change in how the saw “feels” to the operator since changing the location of the blade effects the gyroscopic effect on the saw. It is important to make sure everyone has operated the saw in a training setting before using it on an actual emergency run.

The photos below show the benefit when cutting a hinge with an outboard saw. The first photo shows an unmodified saw, and the second shows the outboard saw. You can clearly see how the outboard saw cuts the hinge at a better, more perpendicular angle.



The next photos show how the outboard saw cuts the floor lock. The first photo shows an unmodified saw, and the second shows the outboard saw. Again, you can clearly see how the outboard saw cuts the lock at a better, more perpendicular angle.



The outboard conversion can be accomplished with just a few quick and easy steps. All you need is the scrench that came with your saw, or a flat-head screwdriver and ratchet. Click here to download a complete step-by-step guide to perform the outboard saw conversion in PDF format.


Padlock Twist

Our friend Andrew Brassard from Brotherhood Instructors LLC submitted this video showing the Padlock Twist. A padlocked chain is an extremely common forcible entry situation we may come across. One popular method of defeating this set-up is to try and drive the padlock off the chain by inserting the pike of the halligan into the shackle of the lock, and striking with another tool. However this method is not always the most efficient because the chain tends to act as a shock absorber and absorbs most of the force you are generating into the lock. Another and perhaps more common method is to simply use a saw or bolt cutters to cut the lock… but what if you don’t have a saw on your rig? Or you find yourself operating a long distance from the rig and don’t want to waste time going back to grab a tool?

As you can see in the video, you begin by simply twisting the chain to remove the slack. Once the slack is taken out, you place the forks of the halligan on the shackle of the padlock and keep twisting until the lock fails. The method in the video works really well for both low and medium security padlocks, which are typically the most common we come across due to their low price. The most beneficial part of this method is that it is a single person technique. One common use may be when the outside vent firefighter encounters a chain and padlock when accessing the rear yard at a private dwelling and may only have a hook and halligan to work with.

Knowing how to utilize your tools in a variety of different ways is an essential fireground skill. Simply knowing how to apply the maximum amount of mechanical advantage in different situations will make us more efficient and effective on the fireground.

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Color-Coded Cribbing

Assist Chief. Dennis Baker Jr. from Baden (PA) sent in these pictures of how they set up their cribbing. He made sure to point out that Lt. Tim Firich was actually the one who should get the credit for the idea. They color-coded their cribbing based on length. The ones pictured happen to be 18” 6×6’s. As you can see in the picture below the paint color actually goes about an inch onto the side of the cribbing as well. This little addition makes it easy to visually see from a distance that the cribbing tower is square.


The handles are 1 inch webbing cut at 16 inches long and secured with a fender washer and 1 1/4″ wood screw. They overlapped the webbing and used a soldering pencil to burn the whole for the screw. This will prevent the webbing from unraveling near the screw hole.


The idea of color-coding could be implemented a few different ways: either length or lumber size. Even wedges could be coded with different color paint, or even a different color of webbing. For example if you painted your 4×4’s red, the 4×4 wedges could also be red, but with a different color webbing. The important thing is not of over think it. Come up with a standardized marking system that works for you and your agency.


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