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12 items to keep in your apparatus cab

Fire officers can’t remember everything, so here’s a list resources to have in your first-due rigs


What do you keep in the apparatus cab when you and your crew are responding to emergencies?

The following article was originally written in 2013. What are the newest “external brain” resources you ensure ride with you on the apparatus? Share in the comments below.

One thing we can all agree upon in the world of fire and EMS response is that the scope of our operations has greatly expanded. We also likely agree that the body of knowledge required by our personnel has greatly expanded and continues to do so in quantum leaps.

Every day, fire officers are faced with emergency scenarios that they’ve never encountered or old incidents that have been repackaged.

I remember the following vignette from one of my ALS continuing education classes when I was with the Chesterfield (Virginia) Fire and EMS Department. Our guest lecturer, a well-known and respected nurse manager from an area hospital, was discussing the above challenge as it relates to physicians and nurses in the emergency department.

Their answer? Develop and maintain an “external brain.” Their pockets are stuffed with quick-reference guides, treatment algorithm cards and cheat sheets for a variety of scenarios.

So what kind of external brain stuff is in the apparatus cab when you and your crew are responding to emergencies? Here are a few neat items I came across in preparing this dispatch.

Old school guidance

Now I’m as techie as a double-nickel retired firefighter can be, and I still feel that the more simple the solution, the less chance for a snafu in the heat of the moment. I like handbooks, pocket guides and notepads along with several pens because the folks on B shift were always leaving the pens on scene.

1. The NIMS Incident Command Field Guide is a 3- x 5-inch reference guide that concisely outlines what you need to know about NIMS objectives, whether you’re at the local, state or federal level, or in private industry. Tough, waterproof and alcohol-fast, this handy guide can be used for NIMS and ICS training, during training and functional exercises and, most importantly, in the field where you need it most.

It includes NIMS overview and major components, joint information systems, multiagency coordination system; ICS concepts, position-specific prompts for command and operations; planning process and cycle, incident action plan, ICS forms, and more.

2. Looking for a field guide for fire operations? Check out the “Rapid Incident Command System ICS Handbook,” which includes tactical assignments, basic size-up information and emergency telephone numbers. It also has specific response information related to carbon monoxide, collapse, confined spaces, explosive devices, hazmat response, aircraft crashes, maritime fires, wildland-urban interface fires, water rescue, etc. It costs $5.

3. The Fire Officer Field Guide combines fire and rescue content with information for officers. It provides the officer with quick access to critical information in an intuitive checklist, including key firefighter safety behaviors, situational awareness tips, RIT activation, mayday and rescue procedures, incident command, hazmat scene, MCI, tactical tips and more. This pocket-sized field reference is still only 3- x 5-inches, has color-coded tabs, and is waterproof, alcohol-fast and street tough.

4. The Technical Rescue Field Operations Guide, 5th Edition contains countless color illustrations, command checklists and step-by-step procedures for rope rescue, confined space rescue, swiftwater rescue, surface ice rescue, trench rescue, structural collapse rescue and helicopter rescue.

5. The Emergency Response Guidebook, otherwise known as the Orange Book, is a must-have for first responders arriving at a hazmat incident. The first-responding officer can use it to quickly identify the specific or generic classification of the materials involved in the incident, and to protect themselves and the public during this initial response phase. Watch for an update in summer 2020.

6. The Hazardous Materials: Managing the Incident Field Ops Guide is a great companion to the textbook by the same name. It includes detailed tactical checklists that follow the eight-step process, a section on identification and recognition of containers, data cards on the top 50 hazardous materials and CBRNEs, as well as a matrix of weapons of mass destruction and drug lab precursor chemicals.

7. Rite in the Rain has several good field guides that are made even better because the pages are waterproof, ready for you to fill with notes!

New school: Wireless device apps

Here are some goodies for my 21st-century firefighters and officers. The following is just a small sample, and more apps are coming into the cyber-marketplace every day.

8. The Fire Officer Field Guide — SHS Edition interactive application includes an updated section on the IAFC Safety, Health and Survival Section’s Rules of Engagement, as well as dynamic checklists, and dozens of detailed illustrations and charts to assist the fire officer in managing any type of incident. It is available for Android, iPhone and iPad.

9. The mobile Emergency Response Guidebook 2016 provides the nation’s emergency responders with fast, easily accessible information to help them manage hazmat incidents. This software is available from the Apple iTunes store for iPhone, and from the Google Play website for Android.

10. The NIOSH Chemical Hazards app provides general industrial hygiene information for workers, employers and occupational health professionals. The chemicals or substances contained in the revision include all substances for which the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has provided recommended exposure limits and those with permissible exposure limits as found in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s General Industry Air Contaminants Standard. Users can search by chemical name, CAS number and formula. It is available for Android, iPhone and iPad.

11. The WISER (Wireless Information System for Emergency Responders) database provides information on biological, chemical and radiological threats. It is a great app for anyone looking to support an existing emergency response infrastructure as it assists first responders in hazardous material incidents. The quality of the information for each threat is excellent, providing everything you need to know in a hazmat scenario from treatments to distancing and evacuation. It is available for Android, BlackBerry, iPhone and iPad.

12. Incident Response Pocket Guide from the National Wildfire Coordinating Group provides a wildland fire job aid and training reference for operational personnel from firefighter Type 2 through division supervisor and initial attack/extended attack incident commanders. It also has a secondary application for all-hazard incident response. This app has no ads, no permissions and requires no network connection once installed. It is true to the form of the hard copy pocket guide. It is available for Android and iOS.

So what external brains are in the cab with you when responding to emergencies?

Battalion Chief Robert Avsec (ret.) served with the Chesterfield (Virginia) Fire & EMS Department for 26 years. He was an instructor for fire, EMS and hazardous materials courses at the local, state and federal levels, which included more than 10 years with the National Fire Academy. Chief Avsec earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Cincinnati and his master’s degree in executive fire service leadership from Grand Canyon University. He is a 2001 graduate of the National Fire Academy’s EFO Program. Beyond his writing for and, Avsec authors the blog Talking “Shop” 4 Fire & EMS and has published his first book, “Successful Transformational Change in a Fire and EMS Department: How a Focused Team Created a Revenue Recovery Program in Six Months – From Scratch.” Connect with Avsec on LinkedIn or via email.