What's in your turnout coat pockets?

Take a close look at what equipment is in your pockets and decide if it may do more harm than good


Check out the updated version of this article, “Firefighters, what’s in your turnout gear pockets?,” based on feedback we received from the FireRescue1.com community in July 2019.

Popular TV commercials for a credit card these days feature pitchmen Alec Baldwin and Jimmy Fallon — and occasionally Fallon’s adorable young lady sidekick — asks the question: "What's in your wallet?" Personally, I like it when the little girl asks it and makes Fallon look a bit silly, but that's just me.

Firefighters are by and large an innovative lot when it comes to tools and techniques. I've always found that one of the hot beds of this creative energy can be found in the pockets of a firefighter's turnout coat.

In the spirit of the credit card commercial, I posed the following question to my 300+ Facebook firefighter friends: "What’s in your turnout gear pockets?"

Here are some of the responses I received:

None
  • Firefighter Cassel (Pa.): [Sprinkler] Wedges, two pairs of gloves, safety glasses, hair ties, bottled water.
  • Firefighter Angelique (Va.):  Safety glasses, extrication gloves, medical gloves, extra hair tie, [roll] 3-inch tape, Nomex hood, knife/seatbelt cutter/window punch. 
  • Firefighter Cormier (Pa.): Wire cutters, work gloves, mine tape, safety glasses, and flashlight.
  • Firefighter Boenish (Wash.): Spanner [wrench], eye protection, hose gloves, medical gloves, HAND WARMERS! And a water bottle.
  • Firefighter Tittle (Pa.): Two pairs of gloves, pink safety glasses, Nomex hood, hair ties, medical gloves, ear plugs (for fireworks) and a healthy snack bar.

Next, I did a couple of quick Internet searches using these search terms, "Firefighter+turnout+gear+pockets+tools," which yielded these gems.

  • Firefighter Acosta: Webbing, spanner wrench with a punch and gas valve shut off, [sprinkler] wedge, flashlight, gloves, extrication gloves on my jacket. CPR mask inside pocket and knife.
  • Firefighter Jason: I carry fire gloves, extrication gloves, latex gloves, two radios (high and low band), compass, flashlight, spanner wrench, cutting pliers, battery wrench, safety glasses, center punch, paper and pen, lighter and smokes.
  • Firefighter Ellis: I carry a seatbelt cutter on my helmet. A Pelican flashlight is attached on the top left side of my coat, my radio is in the radio pocket on my top right side coat, and a window punch in my lower right coat pocket. I also carry a spanner in my left coat pocket. On my suspenders I carry all my med gear, e.g., scissors, med gloves, penlight and such. In my left bunker pants pocket I carry my SCBA mask and in my right bunker pants pocket I carry my firefighting and extrication gloves and my Nomex hood. That is all and I didn't realize I carried so much stuff until I started writing it all down!

For some good tool and equipment suggestions, as well as storage tips to help you get to your stuff quicker, check out Vententersearch.com

What I think
I think the proliferation of pocket space on turnout gear only encourages the pack rat gene that we all have. More space equals opportunity to carry more stuff. 

I saw one tip on line that blew me away — remove the removable knee pads from your turnout gear pants and store nylon webbing in its place. And how much of that stuff in your pockets ever sees the light of day except when you're washing and drying your gear?

I also think that carrying lots of tools around in your turnout gear encourages an undesirable characteristic: The round peg in the square hole syndrome. I've seen too many firefighters who try to make the tool — the one on their person — fit the task, rather than going to get the right tool for the job. This usually ends with less-than-desirable consequences.

Let's not forget the primary reasons why we wear a personal protective clothing ensemble for firefighting. First, it provides a measure of protection to the human body from thermal insult during firefighting operations from radiant and convected heat.

Second, it is designed to "take the hit" and hopefully allow a firefighter to survive a flashover. For structural firefighters, your PPC is the equivalent of the wildland firefighter’s emergency fire shelter.

Instead of using your turnout gear pockets as a toolbox or personal care compartments, consider “emergency use only” items such as these:

  • Medical exam gloves and facemask. If you don't have infection-control gear at the point of attack — the moment the patient care situation presents itself — you don't have it.
  • A small, simple medical kit to take care of airway, breathing and circulation problems for a civilian or fellow firefighter until medical personnel and gear can arrive.
  • A small LED flashlight, which has lots of uses including signaling to other firefighters if you're in a jam.
  • Several packages of foam earplugs and use them regularly. Emergency scenes are rife with noise pollution. Over time these things add up to hearing loss.

So what do you say, how about lightening up the load that you carry to every call?

Join the discussion

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