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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


From pliers and screwdrivers to nylon webbing and multi-tools, your average firefighter is ready for anything and everything.

Photo/Tina Gianos

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

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:

  • 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

What I think about the gear firefighters carry

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

I saw one tip online 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 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.

Pockets for emergency use only items

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?

Revisiting the question reveals a wide variety and volume of tools packed into firefighter turnout gear pockets

This article, originally published on Aug. 21, 2013, has been updated.

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.