Tool Choice

Dave LeBlanc reminds us of one of Tom Brennan’s “Random Thoughts” and how it relates to riding assignments and filling your hands before going to work.

In a perfect world, all fire departments would be able to respond with 5-man engines and 6-man trucks. Each seat would be filled with a well trained and experienced firefighter. Each firefighter would have an assignment based on the needs on the fireground and how the company would arrive. Because each firefighter had an assignment, they would also be assigned tools.

The assignment of riding positions and accompanying duties accomplishes a few things. First of all, it ensures that every firefighter responding will be able to size up each call based on their assignment function. Firefighters do not have to guess what they will be doing. Assignments also ensure that all the important functions needed at each fire at covered. They ensure that the rights tools are in the right place, and that venting is searching is coordinated with fire attack and fire attack is coordinated with ventilation.

Many departments do not have the manpower and resources to respond with all the seats full. Some departments rely on off duty members or volunteers to pick up vehicles or fill empty seats. Some departments have firefighters responding directly to the scene. Often these departments will have an engine arrive second due and function more like a truck company. It is a matter of what needs to be done, and who is available to do it.

In these cases, where there are no set riding positions or tool assignments, it is often up to the individual firefighter or the company officer to decide what tools to bring. So the question now becomes, what do you consider when choosing a tool?

We all know an empty handed firefighter is just a well dressed spectator. Firefighters should not get off the truck without a tool in their hand. In “Random Thoughts” Tom Brennan discussed the one tool firefighter. “I have to begin with one of my pet peeves — the one tool firefighter. I hope this gone has gone the way of the ratchet door opener, the punch and chisel, the six pound axe and the like. There is no scenario in which on arrival you can choose one tool from the assortment and be productive and accomplish your goals for the entire firefighting operation.” If you haven’t read “Random Thoughts”, get a copy. Tom Brennan taught more in those pages than most instructors will teach in a lifetime. Carrying multiple tools, especially those that complement each other, like the Halligan and a flat-head axe and we become more functional as firefighters. But the tools we carry need to be based on how we plan on functioning at a particular incident.

A six foot rake isn’t going to be a big help if you’re assigned to force entry, just as a Halligan may not be useful if you end up opening ceilings. If you are not assigned tools based on riding position then you must listen to the radio traffic and try and determine how you are going to be assigned, if you are not given orders before you leave your piece.

Clearly a system where tools and functions are assigned based on how your company arrives offers more benefits in the ever changing fireground. Predetermined assignments means that the right amount of the right tools show up and are put to work in a plan that considers what needs to be done and when. It also means that time isn’t spent trying to figure out what to bring, once you arrive on scene. However if you work in a system without predetermined assignments and tools, then grabbing a tool should be more than just taking the closest or most convenient one. It should be based on some reasonable thought considering what your assignment will be.

“Random Thoughts – How Basic Can You Get? How About Hand Tools For Truck Work?” Tom Brennan June 1994

Title Image courtesy Wayne Barrall; Photo courtesy Billy Adkins,, used with permission.

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  • CBEMT says:

    Wish we had enough hand tools to take more than one. If I do, chances are somebody will be empty-handed.

  • Dave, if we spell out operational priorities i.e. Confine (line between occupants and the fire) Vent for Fire, Search, Vent for Life, etc. then the tools become a no brainer. When did you get there and which Operational Priority must come next. That can be an assignment from Command or an Implicitly Coordinated operation based upon SOG. Just my $0.02. Cheers, mate!

  • Dave LeBlanc says:

    I agree to a point Chris. I think that recognizing the “right tool” for the “right job” also depends on training. Members need to be trained what tools for what jobs. It may seem very basic, but those tend to be the things we screw up most.

    I think is why the riding assignment / SOP driven model works better. 1) you know what you are doing and 2) You know what tools to take. Now everyone is working from the same playbook, and the rights tools should end up in the right place.

  • Eddie C says:

    I @%$# hate it when 5 out of 5 firefighters have a pick head axe!! This shows the importance of simply knowing your job. Going along the lines of Chris and Dave, there are so many variables on todays fire grounds the last thing you should worry about is if you actually brought a tool to preform your assigned task.

    Great post Dave Stay Safe!

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