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5 tool types new firefighters can’t live without

It’s time to start a shopping list

DALL·E 2024-01-29 23.03.53 - An image of a multi-use tool being held in a firefighter's outstretched gloved hand. The gloved hand is in focus, with the glove being a typical fire.png

There’s no greater investment you can make than for your safety.


The adage “Jack of all trades, master of none” has never been more applicable to today’s firefighters. Every day, firefighters are confronted with various emergency scenarios where the combination of a sharp mind and the right tool means the difference between success and failure.

The problem: Many of those situations don’t happen when a firefighter can quickly get the required tool from the apparatus on location. Experienced firefighters, being resourceful individuals, often make clever use of the considerable number of pockets available on today’s PPE to carry an assortment of hand tools, rope and webbing to help them get the job done safely, effectively and efficiently.

5 must-have tools for new firefighters

What tools to carry in your turnout gear’s pockets is one of the most talked about subjects in fire service circles. And for the new firefighter, it’s even more important to get it right. So, start making a shopping list.

1. Environmental monitoring devices. It’s important to have a healthy respect for electricity and toxic gases. Since you can’t see electricity, you must have a non-contact voltage detector – a tool that enables you to evaluate the threat posed by electrical wires.

There are thousands of toxic gases out there, but the most common one you’ll encounter is carbon monoxide (CO), which is a byproduct of burning of fossil fuels (e.g., wood, coal, petroleum products) and can be present for a number of reasons: damaged or improperly installed chimney flues; improperly vented emergency generators; propane or other natural gas stoves or heating equipment that are not working properly; or vehicles left running in a garage with CO entering the living space.

Personal gas monitors like MSA’s ALTAIR Single-Gas Detector, which are designed to be carried by the individual firefighter, are a key safety tool for any response.

Read more: Portable gas meters: The essential ‘E’ in PPE you should use on every call

2. Forcible-entry tools. These are hand tools needed to force entry through doors and windows in residential occupancies (e.g., single- and multi-family dwellings). You’ll also need them to gain entry to malfunctioning machinery and components (e.g., removing panels and disassembling housings) that are typically the cause of those “smell of smoke” calls to which you frequently respond. Some examples include:

  • A multi-feature rescue axe to force open windows and doors.
  • A multi-tool for firefighters that includes a knife, multi-use screw drivers, file, pliers and more.
  • A multi-purpose screwdriver, such as a 5-in-1 model, is key. Air handler units, hinges, hard wiring a car, or assembling office furniture is no sweat with one of these on hand.
  • Locking pliers for dealing with stubborn nuts and bolts and to keep open what you’ve just opened.
  • Door wedges to ensure the door you just opened stays open – a matter of life or death.

3. Tools to access to vehicle crash victims. The typical fire department responds to more motor vehicle crashes than they do structure fires in a year. A critical first step is quickly gaining access to occupants to assess and treat their injuries, and these four tools can make your efforts safer, more effective and more efficient:

  • Seat belt cutter
  • Spring-loaded window punch
  • Dent-free trunk key
  • Shove knife

4. Self-rescue tools. These tools can assist in your escape when you find yourself trapped by fallen wires or building components. Since the late 1970s, builders of single- and multi-family residential dwellings have used less cut lumber and lighter weight – and cheaper – fabricated building materials. Together with open floor plan designs, these residential dwellings have a greater potential for fires to spread through void spaces in walls, ceilings and floors, resulting in earlier failure of those structural components. You need the ability to “cut or hack” your way to safety through HVAC ductwork and sheetrock walls using tools like:

  • Tin snips or other wire cutters
  • Axe/hatchet

Or, in situations when you suddenly need to make a quick bail out from a second-floor window to escape a blaze, these items will be handy to have in one of your pockets:

  • Rope (A 50-foot section of Type III, 7-strand 550 paracord)
  • Locking-type carabineers
  • Portable escape anchor or hook

5. Utility tools. In the same way a clutch utility baseball player can do many things to help their ballclub win, these types of tools can be used for several types of firefighting tasks:

  • A Quickstop Firefighter Multi Tool. A 6-in-1 device featuring a fire sprinkler tool, spanner wrench, utility key, pressure relief valve wrench, door chock and oxygen cylinder valve key.
  • Personal locator device or strobe rescue lights. These can help others locate you at night or in low visibility conditions. These are extremely useful when working around water, ice or during a ground search.
  • · Nylon webbing. Because of its versatility, firefighters should carry a couple of lengths and widths for additional flexibility, such as 15-feet of 2-inch webbing and 20-feet of 1-inch webbing.
  • Spare flashlight. With today’s LED lamps and battery technology making powerful flashlights smaller than ever, I recommend firefighters carry two on calls – one to use and another to use when the first one dies, breaks or is lost. Be sure to check your backup flashlight daily!

Beware the ‘junk pocket’

Many of us have a “junk drawer” in our house, typically a kitchen drawer that essentially serves as a final resting place for anything that didn’t have a specific storage spot. In the junk drawer you might find anything from dead batteries to remote controls for appliances not in the home anymore, as well as untold numbers of mismatched nuts, bolts and nails of all sizes.

Don’t let your turnout gear pockets become little “junk drawers.” Your PPE coat and pants combination costs your fire department $1,500 or more, and as a new firefighter, you don’t want to explain to your fire chief how all those tools jammed into your pockets have damaged said pockets, right?

A good bunker gear pocket protector can keep that conversation from happening and keep your tools more organized and accessible.

So, there you have it. The five types of tools every new firefighter should have readily available. Some are inexpensive, while others might seem a bit pricey, especially for someone just starting out in the job. Start early, do your research and make a plan for getting at least one useful tool from each category.

There’s no greater investment you can make than that of investing in your own safety.

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.