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The Domino Effect
by Mark van der Feyst

3 fireground tasks requiring hand tools

Not having a hand tool reduces effectiveness and speed of crucial fireground tasks

By Mark van der Feyst

The fire apparatus is a giant toolbox on wheels. Loaded onto it are all kinds of tools, equipment and devices to use for certain situations and circumstances.

In recruit training, we stress the importance of always having a hand tool to aid in any operation. The hand tool allows us to become more effective on the fireground by extending the use of our bodies. There are many hand tools on the market directed towards the fire service.

Every fire apparatus will have a selection of these hand tools. So why is it that we still have firefighters responding to a call who get off the fire apparatus empty handed?

There is certainly a domino effect that is apparent when firefighters do not have any hand tools with them. Their ability is cut drastically and their overall effectiveness is decreased.

Slowing the operation
This eventually leads to a handicapping of sorts for all involved. When a firefighter does not have a hand tool, time is added to the operation because someone has to get the proper tool and bring it back. If every firefighter carried at least one hand tool on the fireground, there would be a great increase in the ability of that crew.

Regarding hand tools, FDNY's Lt. Michael N. Ciampo teaches "two hands, two tools." The idea is that every firefighter can carry a hand tool in each hand making him more effective. Lt. Ciampo has taught some good techniques for two hand tools that can be applied easily on the fireground.

The three areas where hand tools play an important part of the fireground operation are search, forcible entry and overhaul.

Search, forced entry, overhaul
During a search, hand tools help extend the body to gain a longer reach. They also help with finding voids or holes in the floor as the search unfolds.

They can be used to open a door and then quickly close it if need be. And they are necessary for creating a breach in the wall or taking out a window for survival reasons or for extrication reasons.

Hand tools are definitely required in forcing open doors, windows, garage doors or any type of closure. Using your foot or body to open a door forcibly is not the way to do this. It will only hurt you physically and make things worse. 

During overhaul hand tools allow firefighters to open walls, pull off casings around windows and doors, and pull down ceilings. Overhaul can happen once the fire is knocked down.

If the search or hose team does not have any hand tools with them, they are going to have to wait until some appear on scene in order to locate and extinguish all hidden fire. 

Remember that no hand tools will only produce more work in the long run. So always bring hand tools with you and prevent the handicapping effect from occurring. 

About the author

Mark van der Feyst is a 13-year veteran of the fire service. He currently works for the City of Woodstock Fire Department in Canada. Mark is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States and India. He also a Local Level Suppression Instructor for the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy, and an Instructor for the Justice Institute of BC. You can contact Mark with feedback at

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