Being a firefighter means being prepared for any situation you may encounter. Every firefighter needs to have a range of tools at his or her disposal to execute their job to the best of their abilities and we’ve put together a guide with the best and most useful of those tools.
The 12 tools that all firefighters should carry include:
- Personal Lights x 2
- Door chocks
- Work gloves
- Hose strap
- Snagger tool
- Extra flash hood
- Shove knife
- Escape rope
Your # 1 priority is keeping your family safe. As a firefighter, I recommend everyone has updated smoke detectors that don’t require battery changes, like these ones from Kidde, a fire extinguisher, like this one from Amerex, and a fire escape ladder if you have bedrooms above the first floor, I recommend this one from Hausse.
Also read: The 7 Best Firefighter Station Boots
New Firefighter Tools
There are new tools along for firefighters all the time. Our list has tried to focus on the tried and tested core tools that almost every firefighter carries on the job at the moment.
New and probationary firefighters will almost certainly find this list useful to equip themselves to be successful on the job.
Experienced professionals can also get some insight into new tools, as well as recommendations from other firefighters such as myself.
Even if you are not a firefighter and don’t plan to become one, these tools can make great gifts for your firefighter friend or family member!
Also read: How Much Does Firefighter Gear Weigh?
Firefighter Tool List: 12 Tools Every Firefighter Should Carry in Their Pockets
1. Personal Lights x 2
If you can imagine fighting a fire in a cramped space where the electricity has been shut off, late at night, you can quickly see that visibility is going to be a problem for firefighters. In fact, a firefighter needs to be able to create light at a moment’s notice.
If you can’t see, you can’t function effectively, and you might be putting your life or the life of a colleague or member of the pubic at risk. Firefighter’s flashlights are the solution to this problem.
I recommend every firefighter have at least two of the three options: Handheld flashlight, Helmet light and Right-angle light.
This Streamlight Strion LED handheld flashlight is one I have had for years with no issues. It’s light (5.3 ounces) and portable but provides plenty of light (260 lumens).
For more information on firefighter flashlights, read: The 10 Best Firefighter Flashlights: Reviewed
In addition to a handheld flashlight, you’re probably also going to want a helmet-mounted light or a headlamp that allows you to direct light without taking away one of your hands, this is going to be very important in certain firefighting situations.
The gold standard for helmet lights is the Streamlight Vantage LED Tactical Helmet Mounted Light. It’s easy to mount and adjust (rotates 360 degrees) and provides plenty of light (115 lumens).
For more information on firefighter helmet lights, read: The 10 Best Firefighter Helmet Lights: Reviewed
As far as right-angle lights to clip to your turnout coat, I recommend the Streamlight Survivor LED Right-angle Light. These are great for another hands-free light besides just a helmet light.
For more right-angle flashlight information, read: The 10 Best Right Angle Firefighter Flashlights: Reviewed
There are various kinds of handheld flashlight and head/helmet lights which might help you as a firefighter, some are chosen for the nature of your work and others through personal preference.
2. Door Chocks
One of the cheapest and most useful pieces of kit that any firefighter can carry is a “chock” (or “chalk” sometimes) which is often called a “door wedge” too. You can even make your own and, in fact, many firefighters do at the fire house.
They can be used in nearly every part of a firefighter’s work. They will neatly secure the door on any building and can help you manipulate the ventilation flow to any fire. Many firefighters will carry two or more chocks when they’re on duty.
According to Clint Cardinale a current firefighter, “how many is enough? I always go with some advice my old boss told me, as a line firefighter you need 5 door chalks. His logic: the most doors you are going to need to chalk will be in mid-rise commercials and/or apartment buildings: 1 for the front door, 1 one for the other side of the vestibule, 1 for the bottom of the stairwell, 1 for the top of the stairwell, 1 for the apt/fire room door. All told 5 door chalks.”
You can make them from scrap wood or buy professional chocks like this Wedge-It Ultimate Door Stop 5 pack.
3. Work Gloves
Every firefighter will own at least two pairs of gloves. The majority will own some structural fighting gloves; these are robust gloves that will be certified to deliver both heat and flame-resistance whilst fighting the toughest of blazes.
Then most firefighters will also own some extraction or work gloves. These are the gloves firefighters typically wear at the scene of vehicle accidents. They protect their hands against getting cut on sharp pieces of metal or glass and ward off puncture wounds too. All this and they still allow the hands to move freely and do the job required of them.
Those gloves are usually provided for firefighters by their department. However, I recommend that every firefighter also have some general work gloves.
These can be used while training, cleaning up hose, or any tasks that don’t require the heat protection of structure gloves. This can allow your firefighting gloves to last longer and they usually have much better dexterity than structure gloves.
4. Hose Strap
A hose strap is either a short piece of rope with an eye at either end and then a metal hook on the opposite end or it’s a piece of flat-nylon webbing which has been turned into a varying size loop.
The argument for the hook is additional versatility, the argument for the nylon is it weighs quite a bit less and you can fit it in a pocket without accidentally stabbing yourself.
The hose strap has been used in firefighting since 1898 (it was listed by the Seattle Municipal Firefighting department in their equipment inventory, back then).
The main use for a hose strap is to assist with controlling and moving the charged fire hose. However, it can also be used to secure a hose line, to move a victim of a fire or an accident, to carry boots, to open or close doors and in a myriad of other ways.
It gets its name from being used to secure charged hose line. The firefighter loops the hose line around the hose and their shoulder either by employing the hook or a knot known as a “girth hitch” or “larks foot”.
Here is a video showing how to tie a girth hitch:
This will typically cost $20 or less to buy. You can see an example at the Firefighting Depot here.
5. Snagger Tool
A snagger tool is also used for managing a charged fire hose. It’s very light and the design is simple, it’s an s-shaped tool with a spiked end. It allows you to get a bite with either 1 3/4″ or 2 1/2″ charged hose. This makes it much easier to maneuver and advance working hose line.
Here is a video that shows the Snagger tool in use:
It’s also handy for other purposes such as removing the glass from a vehicle’s windshield without risking injury. You can use the spike to smash tempered glass safely too.
It’s good if you need to demolish some drywall or ceiling boards and particularly so, when you’re in a small space where other tools won’t fit.
It also acts as an excellent gas-cock shutoff tool and, in a pinch, it also acts as a bonus chock.
6. Extra Flash Hood
A flash hood is a simple looking garment that covers some of a firefighter’s face, all of their hair and neck. It is designed to provide additional protection from flames and heat without obstructing a firefighter’s vision or ability to communicate with their team.
I recommend every firefighter carry an extra (second) flash hood with them. This can come in handy if yours or a crew members hood gets lost or ripped while on a fire. I put mine in my helmet, which also has an added layer of heat protection for my head.
They are typically made to the NFPA 1971 standard for Protective Ensembles for Structural and Proximity Firefighting. It is very important if the firefighter is going to use SCBA (Self-contained breathing apparatus) equipment that the face opening holds its shape in order to make a tight contact layer with the SCBA.
There are a wide-range of flash hoods on the market with a wide-range of price tags to go along with them. You can see some examples here on Amazon. Generally, the price will reflect the quality and durability of the product and the more you spend, the longer it will last and the better it will fit.
Certain designs are specifically designed for a particular manufacturer of SCBA, though, so, it’s important to ascertain if this is something you need before you buy a flash hood.
The Fire Department of New York performed an in-depth study of the effectiveness of flash hoods back in 1990 and concluded that there was a large amount of evidence that they reduce facial and head injuries to firefighters significantly.
For more information, read: The Best Firefighter Particulate Hoods
Webbing is cheap and simple and yet, one of the most flexible and useful tools that any firefighter can carry. Most will take about 20-25 feet of 1” tubular webbing with them at any one time, in a single roll, daisy chain or stuffed behind the knee pad (if it’s removable).
It doesn’t matter how webbing is stored as long as you can get to it when you need it and it doesn’t need untangling when it comes out. You can’t afford to be unpicking knots in webbing during a blaze, there’s no way for that to work out well.
Remember that you will be wearing gloves when you need your webbing when you’re working out where to stow it.
Webbing can be handy in many different situations including: forcible door entry, as a hose strap, to hoist tools, during extrication, as part of a self-rescue device (note: it’s a last resort for this), a “hasty harness” (which is only hasty if you know how to make one), and for lashing.
Here is a video showing how to quickly tie a hasty harness on yourself:
The good news is that webbing is relatively affordable. Here is a great 24ft webbing roll with carrying pouch.
8. Shove Knife
A shove knife, as it sounds, is a forcible entry tool which is shoved between a door and its frame (above the latch) when the doors can swing outward and have “key in the knob” locks. It’s then pulled down towards the ground and it forces the locking mechanism to open.
If you’re wondering who is responsible for the damage that it causes? Don’t. A shove knife, when properly deployed, won’t harm any part of the jamb, the lock or the door. It’s a question of training to ensure that you get this right.
As you can imagine, there are times when a firefighter either needs access urgently and a shove knife can make this task much easier, without doing damage to the door.
Obviously if there is a ripping fire, it probably makes more sense to just kick down the door. But if its just a false alarm going off, better to get in without ruining the door or lock. Firefighters always try to do the least damage that is possible and a shove knife can be great for that.
Fortunately, this is one of the least expensive pieces of kit in a firefighter’s arsenal and as you can see from this Multi Purpose Pry Tool on Amazon. This is a must have for all firefighters.
A multi-tool is a collection of different tools all incorporated into a single device, it’s essentially an advanced version of the traditional multi-tool pen knife.
While it is true that there is some trade-off in the ease-of-use in all the different tools on the device, overall the biggest advantage to a firefighter is that you don’t have to carry a dozen or more different tools when you have a multi-tool.
When choosing a multitool, the firefighter will be looking for a device that supports them with the majority of tasks that they might need it for as well as its suitability for “everyday carry”. This is simply a reflection of the fact that firefighters carry a lot of gear and anything extra is always a little inconvenient.
Many firefighters will clip their multitool to their belt to try and reduce the impact of carrying one. The biggest challenge when it comes to choosing a multitool for most firefighters is working out which set of pliers is going to be most useful for them.
They can get quite expensive though, check out this Gerber Center-Drive Plus Multi-Tool on Amazon and see how expensive these can be.
But I recommend a more reasonably priced Leatherman Wingman Multi-tool. This has everything a firefighter will need and should last a long time.
Firefighters will often find themselves working in places where they are exposed to high volumes of noise for long periods of time. If this isn’t attended to, it can result in long-term hearing damage.
It’s worth noting that full earmuff protection should be worn when operating gas-powered engines for substantial periods of time.
Audiologist Kathleen Romero has been working with firefighters to improve upon the hearing protection that is used to prevent hearing issues. Read more about this here.
She recommends the Westone DefendEar Max as they are custom-fitted and have an NRR of 29db. These are much more expensive than regular foam earplugs, but protecting your hearing through your career is worth it for many. Here is the DefendEar Digital with an NRR of 30db.
When you buy earplugs, you want to look at the NRR (Noise Reduction Rating) number. You want the highest possible level of NRR (it’s based on a logarithmic scale – so don’t be fooled, a 23 NRR is, in fact, twice as capable of keeping out noise than earplugs with a 20 NRR.
If you don’t want to spend the higher cost on the DefendEar options, Decibullz Custom Molded Earplugs are more budget-friendly and have an NRR of 31db.
11. Escape Rope
Escape/bailout rope is built for personal rescue. This can allow you to get out a window when above the first floor and safely make it to the ground. It’s part of every firefighter’s main escape or bailout kit. Sure you could try to do this with webbing, but that may not work.
Most acknowledge that the value of a purpose built solution is going to do you more good when it matters the most.
Here is the Lightning X Personal Escape Bailout Kit. This has 40 feet of 8mm safety rope in a small bag that can be clipped to your belt or SCBA. It also comes with a carabiner and can allow for a quick and safe escape in the event that you get trapped inside a fire.
It can also be used as a RIT or RIC line or even a water rescue throw bag.
Our final piece of kit is the humble pen. You don’t have to spend a fortune on this but we’d recommend that you choose one that can write on most surfaces and which can work under most circumstances.
This is for taking notes and writing down complicated instructions. It’s an essential tool for you to grow and learn in your firefighting career. I’m not going to recommend one, as most any pen will do. Just make sure to always have a few pens on you.
So, there you have it, 12 tools that firefighters should carry. As you can see, a firefighter’s pockets are rarely empty and for good reason. It’s a difficult and often dangerous job working as a firefighter, but these simple pieces of equipment make it much easier to work safely and effectively.
Every new firefighter will need all of these tools before the can go out to an incident and operate efficiently and every old hand will have plenty of these on their person as a matter of course.