Firefighters are expected to be a jack-of-all-trades and to be ready for anything. This means being prepared. Ask any firefighter to empty their pockets, and you will usually find a wide variety of tools for every situation.
However, firefighting involves physically strenuous work with heavy gear and tools, so, minimizing the weight you are carrying is crucial to efficiency and effectiveness. With so many essential and innovative tools to choose from, I have come up with this comprehensive list, based on years of experience and research, of the best personal tools every active firefighter should consider.
- Flashlights (Personal, Helmet, Right-Angle)
- Extrication/Safety Work Gloves
- Safety Glasses
- Rescue Knife
- Wire Cutters
- Personal Escape/Bailout Rope and Descent Control Device
- Heavy-duty Webbing
- Shove Knife
- Hose Management Tool
Nevertheless, if you ask firefighters which of these are a necessary addition to any set of turnout gear, you are sure to get a different answer every time. The tools that are requisite for active fighting can vary significantly depending on location and personal preferences.
Not sure which tool is right for you? Read on to get a detailed explanation of each tool’s uses, as well as our best pick for each category.
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.
The 11 Best Personal Tools
Light sources like flashlights are one handy accessory that firefighters can’t seem to get enough of. From handheld lamps, safety torches, to body-mounted LEDs, every firefighter always has something in this category, and for a good reason.
Fire personnel often have to perform firefighting and rescue operations in extremely variable environments, typically with low to no light or visibility. Therefore, firefighters must have lights and other related gear to provide high, medium, and short-range lighting.
Furthermore, since fire-grounds can be potentially dangerous environments for electrical equipment to be introduced (flammable gases can ignite), all firefighting lamps must meet strict requirements for safety as well as quality. Here, industry-trusted and firefighter-approved brands like Streamlight, MSA, and Wolf Safety excel.
Though many fire departments will provide larger box-style, handheld, and scene lights, an extra individual light is one of the best firefighter personal tools you can carry. Because when, not if you do need it, there is no viable substitute.
Most firefighters I know (myself included) like to have at least two personal lights for different applications. Pick the two that work best for you out of a helmet light, small personal flashlight and a right-angle turnout coat light.
My Pick for Best Personal Firefighter Flashlight: Streamlight Protac HL
The ProTac HL is a small tactical flashlight that will make for an excellent addition to any firefighter’s gear. Its output of 750 lumens is massive for this tiny easy to carry handheld, and its full-beam design casts a full spill of light that can light up dark rooms on the fire-ground without much hand movement.
The HL is also super easy to use with its single tail-mounted switch that activates three different lighting models. This light can be used in a variety of situations. I have had this light for over 5 years and it still works like new!
For more information on firefighter flashlights, read: The 10 Best Firefighter Flashlights: Reviewed
My Pick for Helmet Light: Streamlight Vantage LED Helmet Light
The Streamlight Vantage beats all the competition for helmet lights by a mile! It is small (3.3 x 1.5 x 2.6 inches), lightweight (8 ounces) and can light up any room (115 lumens). It is also designed to be used in brutal firefighting conditions and is basically unbreakable. It is made from anodized aluminum to withstand heat, water, and impacts.
This light has an easy to use mount that clamps onto the brim of your helmet with no tools. It can rotate 360 degrees and is simple to switch off and on. The included lithium batteries should last 6 hours, but it seems closer to 4 hours in real life.
It includes a limited lifetime warranty and comes in different colors.
This helmet light, though pricier than some, seems to outlast all the others. This, to me, makes the cost well worth it and it actually ends up being cheaper than replacing your helmet light with a cheaper model every year or two.
For more information of firefighter helmet lights, read: The 10 Best Firefighter Helmet Lights: Reviewed
My Pick for Right-Angle Flashlight: Streamlight Survivor LED Right-Angle Flashlight
A right-angle light is clipped onto your turnout or other safety coat to provide hands-free lighting. This can be super helpful.
This light is 175 lumens on high and 60 lumens on low. It lasts 4-15 hours, depending on the setting, on 4 AA batteries. (You can also purchase a model with rechargeable batteries and a charger, but it is more expensive.)
This light is tough and weighs 13 ounces, so still fairly light.
While I don’t personally own this light, we have them on every engine and I use them all the time.
For more information on right angle flashlights, read: The 10 Best Right Angle Firefighter Flashlights: Reviewed
Notice all 3 of my picks are made by Streamlight. Just look at the Amazon reviews for all 3 of these lights! Streamlight flashlights are more or less the unofficial standard carry of firefighters and law enforcement agents here in the U.S. Ask around, and we can almost guarantee that this will be the brand of choice for the majority of stateside service members.
Furthermore, with each Streamlight purchase, you get full lifetime coverage under StreamLight’s famed no-questions-asked warranty.
Note: There are both more expensive and cheaper options for each of these types of lights, however, these are the lights that I have had the best experience with and give the most bang for your buck.
2. Extrication/Safety Work Gloves
On the fire-ground, you are protected from flames and high heat with your structure or wildland firefighting gloves. These are usually issued to you by your department. However, another pervasive risk every firefighter faces is cuts, scrapes, and other soft tissue injuries, with the working hands of a firefighter being one of the areas at the highest risk.
Hence, extrication/safety work gloves are core protective gear for any firefighter. Suitable safety work gloves should be able to keep up with the rigor of the fire-ground while protecting your hands from any severe injury. These can be used in any non-fire work setting, like extrication or rescue calls, any heavy tool use, or even during training.
Also, while the critical purpose of work gloves are to protect your hands, you should ensure that your gloves do not detract from your effectiveness as a firefighter. Ensure that your gloves fit while affording your hands the flexibility to move freely.
These types of gloves are usually not issued by the department but are a necessary piece of protective equipment and I recommend every firefighter have a glove that covers this need.
My Pick for Extrication/Safety Work Gloves: Ringers R327 Heavy Duty Extrication Gloves
The Ringers 327 Rescue and Firefighter Extrication Glove offers a great all-round option for firefighters looking to add personal hand protection to their work gear.
The build of the 327 features generous additions of Kevlar and the palms and sides and thermoplastic rubber (TPR) on the knuckles and top of the hand, making this pair one of the sturdiest you will find on the market today. Plus, these gloves also feature an elastic closure that keeps them on secure but is quick and easy to take on and off.
On the other hand, the Ringers 327 gloves also retain a high level of flexibility thanks to its detached finger design that ensures maximum dexterity during work. It’s double-layered fingertips also guarantees maximum tactile feedback.
These gloves meet the OSHA guidelines for Blood Borne Pathogen Standards (29CFR 1910.1030) and are easy to wash. Another big plus with this pair of safety gloves is its extra bright colors and high reflectiveness, while not particularly fashionable, maximize your visibility.
These gloves are great. They are durable and don’t seem to wear down much after heavy use, have a separate internal lining that helps to keep your hands dry, and most importantly, they protect your hands from whatever you can throw at them.
Note: Some say these run small, but I found they run a little big, so maybe get a size smaller than your structure gloves.
3. Safety Goggles
According to Prevent Blindness America, over 700,000 Americans experience work-related eye injuries every year. With professions like firefighting that carry a higher risk than most, this statistic is especially disconcerting.
Safety glasses and face shields are a critical component of every firefighter’s protective gear as, according to safety specialists, they can prevent up to 90% of all potential eye injuries. Hence, for the safety-conscious firefighter, this piece of gear is non-negotiable.
Thankfully, this equipment is, for the most part, available to U.S. firefighters in the form of a face shield component of their structure firefighter helmet. However, that isn’t the case with a wildland firefighting helmet. The standalone goggles that are attached to the helmet are the best option to protect your eyes in the wildland environment.
Nevertheless, for maximum safety, all firefighter protective eyewear must meet industry standards like ANSI Z87.1-2010 set by the American National Standard for Occupational and Educational Personal Face and Eye Protection. Another relevant standard is the National Fire Protection Association’s code 1971 that sets the guidelines for Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting.
My Pick for Safety Goggles: ESS Influx FirePro-1977 FS Wildland Goggle
If you have ever worked on the lines of a wildland fire, you know how important your eye protection is. Smoke, dirt, tree branches, and tools are all over the place and you need to have your eyes protected.
My department issued some wildland goggles with the rest of my gear, but I hate them. They fog easily, are uncomfortable, don’t stay on well and I still get dirt and smoke in my eyes from around the edges. But, I have tried the FirePro-1977 goggles, and I had none of those issues. I need to get some of these and you should too.
While the ESS Influx FirePro-1977 is probably overkill for most typical fire-ground scenarios, it’s better to air on the side of safety when it comes to protecting our fragile eyes, especially in such hazardous situations.
If you are looking to max out on eye protection, few firefighter-specific eyewear can match the robustness of the FirePro-1977. These strapped goggles feature a unique adjustable ventilation system that lets you cycle between a low-fog open-ventilation mode and a fully-sealed, zero-dust one.
Furthermore, the lenses on the ESS Influx FirePro-1977 have a 3.0mm polycarbonate build that ensures the safety and consistent visibility even after multiple high impact bumps.
On the usability side of things, the FirePro-1977 scores maximum points as well with a unique SpeedClip system that lets you adjust the strap in a heartbeat, even while wearing gloves.
ESS Influx FirePro-1977 FS Wildland Goggle matches the NFPA 1977 Standard.
4. Rescue Knife
Knives are such handy tools that almost everyone needs one, at least some of the time. However, for firefighters, having a knife at hand can significantly enhance their effectiveness on the fire-ground in a wide variety of situations.
An excellent firefighter rescue knife must be strong and durable to ensure that it can withstand any peculiar circumstances the fire-ground throws at it.
However, an even more critical factor in most highly sensitive cases is the ergonomics on the blade. Good rescue knives should be easy to open, even with gloves on, and must be comfortable enough in hand to allow for a steady grip and maximum control.
Other factors to consider for your knife purchase include its portability and blade type.
My Pick for Personal Rescue Knife: Spyderco Assist Lightweight Combo
If you are looking for a versatile, lightweight firefighter knife, few offerings match this description better than the Spyderco Assist Lightweight Combo knife.
This foldable knife features a unique blade design that includes both a standard flat edge as well as a serrated edge on the opposite side. With a serrated blade on one side, you get a more reliable cutting edge for handling slice cuts on more robust materials, where a straight blade may falter.
On the durability side of things, the Spyderco Assist maxes out with a rust-proof VG 10 stainless steel build.
The Spyderco Assist Lightweight Combo is about 8.5 inches long opened, and only 5 inches folded, making it super portable and perfect for pocket carry.
I really like the serrated blade for cutting seatbelts quickly. It also has a carbide tip glass-breaker that pops out the bottom when you squeeze the knife closed. The wavy blade and handle design (designed by a firefighter from Sweden) allows you to easily and safely cut the rope with a scissoring motion, using the partially closed knife.
The multi-tool is a great way to have a bunch of tools without having to carry the whole toolbox. I use my multi-tool probably more often than any of the others, mainly just because it has so many uses in such a small, light package.
Important factors when deciding on a multi-tool include brand, weight, durability and type and number of tools included.
My Pick for Multi-tool: Leatherman Wingman Multi-tool
Leatherman is what many people call these types of tools because they have brand recognition. In my experience, they earned it. The make the best multi-tools I have used.
This tool is only 7 ounces, yet it has 14 different tools you can use. It includes all the basics; pliers, a knife, a wire stripper, a file, wire cutters, scissors, screwdrivers, a package opener, a bottle and can openers, and a ruler.
They are durable and backed by a 25-year warranty from Leatherman.
Note: This is one type of tool where I don’t think it makes sense to buy a high-end model. You also don’t want a cheapo that won’t last. They have 21 tool models, but they cost twice as much and I don’t find myself using more than the basic tools very often.
6. Wire Cutters
From flex ducting to drop ceiling wires, several different wire-related components of a structure can pose severe threats to any active firefighter.
Especially in modern, large-scale buildings, melting cable conduits can create massive webs of wire that have the potential to entrap firefighters, and situations like this are where having a wire cutter can be the difference between life and death.
Consequently, most firefighters carry some form of wire cutting tool, with everything from electrician pliers, trauma shears, side cutters, and even pruning shears showing up on the fire-ground.
However, with a dedicated wire cutter, you get a relatively lightweight tool that offers significantly more dexterity with one-handed use and while wearing gloves. Wire cutters also often provide cleaner cuts with a broader range of cable types.
My Pick for Wire Cutters: Channellock 88 6-in-1 Rescue Tool
Channellock is a brand name that people have trusted in the trades for a long time. They make some of the best plier type tools and they have expanded into the fire service.
The Channellock 88 6-in-1 Rescue Tool is designed specifically for firefighters. Its main function is heavy-duty, laser heat-treated, cable cutters, but it also can pry open doors, shut off gas valves, loosen and tighten hose couplings (even 5inch), and function as pliers.
It’s not super light at 1.6 pounds, but for the many uses, it’s not bad. Now you don’t have to carry a spanner, cable cutters, pliers, etc., this tool covers all those for you.
Note: Even though it has great overall reviews on Amazon, there are people that say they have had issues with durability and craftsmanship, but I have not had any of those experiences.
7. Personal Escape/Bailout Rope
Imagine your fighting a fire on the third floor of a building. Its hot and smoky and the ceiling above you collapses. You aren’t hurt or pinned, but the collapse blocked your only way out of the building. Your options are to call for a Mayday and wait for the RIT/RIC Team to come to help you and hope you have enough air. You could jump out the window to the ground (might be better than being trapped in a fire, but not a safe choice). But if you are well prepared, you have a rope bag and you can use it to safely escape out a window without having to freefall and get injured.
This might not be a common scenario, but it does happen and having an escape rope bag can save your life. There are different equipment or systems that are meant to be used as a personal bailout or escape. I prefer a simple escape rope bag and a descent device.
My Pick for Escape/Bailout Rope: Lightning X Fire Rescue Personal Escape Rope Bag
The Lightning X Personal Escape Rope Bag is made to get you out of a dangerous situation as a firefighter. The bag is small (9 x 4.5 x 4.5 inches) and can be hooked onto your SCBA or turnout coat.
It comes with 40 feet of 8mm rope and an NFPA locking carabiner. The bag is reinforced on the top and bottom to protect from abrasions and wear. The bag with rope weighs 4 pounds, but the added weight is more than worth it when you need to escape.
This rope can also double as a water rescue throw bag or a RIC/RIT line.
I believe all firefighters need to carry something like this as a personal rescue setup, hopefully, you will never need to use it.
This next piece is not as vital for a personal escape setup but it can be useful when used alongside a personal safety rope bag.
A descent device allows you to control the speed at which you are sliding down your rescue rope to the ground. You can use gloved hands, but with 75 pounds of gear, it can be pretty hard to safely control your speed and a simple descent device can make this very easy.
My Pick for Descent Control: Sterling F4 Escape, Auto-Locking Descent Control Device
The smooth, low profile design of the F4 Escape, with its flush body and beveled holes, ensures that the gadget is super lightweight (6 ounces), easy to thread, and removes the risk of any rope abrasion. Furthermore, since this tool features a 6061 aircraft-grade aluminum build, you can bank on it being durable enough to guarantee safety even under extreme stress.
Another excellent feature that this device provides is its auto-locking descent control system that automatically binds the rope and further enhances user safety.
Here is a demonstration of this device being used with a personal rope bag for firefighter bailout:
The Sterling F4 Escape, Auto-Locking Descent Control Device matches the requirements for NFPA 1983:2012 edition certification for use on the fire-ground. It is designed to be used with 7.5 to 9mm personal safety ropes, such as the Lightning X
8. Heavy Duty Webbing
Firefighters typically have to work while carrying heavy gear on fire-grounds than can provide a wide range of dangerous situations. So, in this line of work, fire personnel generally favor lighter tools that can work in as many scenarios as possible, and one of the best fit for this description is heavy-duty webbing.
Thanks to its many different possible uses, webbing is easily one of the essential tools any firefighter can carry on the fire-ground. Everyday use cases for heavy-duty webbing include:
- During forced entry, you can use the strap to control a door and prevent it from flying open, especially when it leads into spaces with unknown heat and smoke condition (Firefighting 101, control the door)
- For manipulating levers like brake pedals or hinges during extrication
- Paired with a Halligan bar as the anchor to create a makeshift self-rescue contraption
- As a temporary lifting harness for rescue operations
- Paired with a carabiner for hoisting tools
- As lashing to tie a patient securely onto a backboard
- As a hose strap
Common ways to store your heavy-duty webbing include rolling it up into a latex glove, saving it in a kneepad, or daisy-chaining.
However, you must ensure that whichever route you choose, to ensure maximum effectiveness, your webbing must be easily accessible and not come out tangled or knotted up.
My Pick for Heavy Duty Webbing: TheFireStore Webbing Pack Cordura Pouch with 24 ft. Webbing
One big positive of the TheFireStore Webbing Pack is portability, with a small sandwich-sized bag that only measures 1 inch in thickness. The kit also allows for secure attachment to a D-ring or easy carry in your pockets.
This pack contains 1-inch webbing that reaches a length of 24 feet with a carry bag to keep it from getting tangled.
If you want the cheaper option, for about $20 you can buy webbing at outdoor stores or climbing stores (make sure it is rated as strong enough for what you will be using it for) and a carabiner. There are different ways to store it for efficient deployment. See the video below for how to best store the webbing.
9. Shove Knife
Firefighters frequently need to gain access to areas that are locked. Though we sometimes have to break down doors with force, we try to do as little damage as possible, for the severity of the situation.
Over the years, door technology has continued to advance, producing sturdier doors and locks and increasingly complicating the process of forcible entry for fire personnel. Today, many door types now require improved forced entry techniques like the use of the “Thru the Lock” method or a K-Tool.
However, for many interior doors in both residential and office buildings, the goto is still lightweight doors, and here, shove knives provide the fastest, damage-free way to gain access. Shove knives can be used on either side of the door and both inward and outward swinging doors.
Furthermore, shove knives also come in especially handy with plate-glass doors, with which other forms of forced entry may create glass fragments that can add in more risk to the fire-ground.
My Pick for Personal Shove Knife: Multi-Purpose Pry Tool
The Multi-purpose Pry Tool is a shove knife that offers a budget-friendly personal option for firefighters who want one ready at hand at all times. This knife features a versatile design that lets you open both inward and outward opening doors.
Furthermore, it includes a two-piece protective sleeve cover that conceals the blade entirely when not in use. It is made from stainless steel and is 6 x 7/8 inches. Nothing fancy about this tool, but it comes in handy all the time. Cheap and effective.
10. Hose Management Tool
Many firefighters might think, “What is a hose management tool? Like a hose strap?” I was the same. The only tool I had ever used to help manage and control the forces of a hose-line was a hose strap.
But then I had another firefighter tell me about the snagger tool and I did some research. Now it is one of the most useful tools that I carry.
My Pick for Hose Management Tool: Snagger Tool by Motis
The Snagger Tool is made by a company called Motis and there really isn’t anything else out there like it. It weighs 10 ounces and is 7 x 5.2 x 1 inches.
Anyone who has been on the nozzle and advanced working line, going up stairs, around tight corners, knows how much work it can be (especially with 2 1/2 inch hose). This tool allows you to simply grab a bite of either 1 1/2 inch, 1 3/4 inch or 2 1/2 inch hose-line. It acts as a handle to make it so much easier to control, advance and move a charged hose.
See it in action:
It can also be used to support hose-lines on ladders or railings, breaking tempered glass, cutting laminated windshields, like a spanner wrench to tighten and loosen couplings, like a door wedge, or as agas shutoff tool.
Just the ease it brings to handling hose makes this tool a must for every firefighter, but with all the other functions, its definitely a winner in my book.
One of the most convenient tools that a firefighter can always carry on his person is a simple screwdriver. Due to their relatively small size, screwdrivers you can easily store in your tool pouch or a bunker pant pocket or coat pocket.
However, the possible applications of a screwdriver on the fire-ground are endless. You can also use screwdrivers to remove covers off air conditioning units, electrical panels, or any other structural fitting standing in the way of fire mitigation or rescue operations.
When choosing a screwdriver for the fire-ground, versatility, and ease of use are of utmost importance. That’s why I recommend picking one with a removable tip that lets you alternate between Philips heads and straight types (slotted) in a brief instant.
Most multi-head screwdrivers also include a quarter-inch nut bit, which you will need to open most modern air conditioning units and electrical panels.
My Pick for Screwdriver: Channellock 131CB 13-in-1 Ratcheting Screwdriver
No useful toolbox is complete without a reliable screwdriver, and the same goes for that of an active firefighter. With the Channellock 131CB 13-in-1 Ratcheting Screwdriver, you get everything you need in a firefighter’s screwdriver.
Channellock has a track record of producing durable work-ready screwdrivers, and this one is no exception. Out of the box, the Channellock 131CB comes with 13 easily swappable tips. And the one feature it has that most don’t is the 28 tooth, 225-pound torque ratchet. This works like a socket wrench and allows for quicker easier removal and installation of all types of screws.
This tool also features a cool design where all the bits are stored secretly in the handle, so you won’t’ lose them. This is another great tool for any firefighter.
You may also be interested in reading: How to Clean a Leather Fire Helmet?