Power Saw Safety on the Fireground

By Jason Poremba

The proper use, care and maintenance of power saws are critical to the success of safe forcible entry operations. Power saws are our "go to" tools in many operations on the fireground. From venting to forcible entry, these tools get the job done fast. They are rapid and efficient and have the ability to cut through various different types of materials at once. They also afford firefighters the energy saved by not having to manually smash or cut through a building's exterior or interior finishes.

There are several key dangers relating to their use:

  • Do not push a saw beyond the limits of its design or purpose. Never use a saw in a flammable atmosphere. The saw's motor or operation may ignite flammable liquids or gases.
  • Always operate with full protection and protect your eyes.
  • Never carry a power tool, raise, or lower a tool that is running.

The rotary saw is one of the most popular gasoline-powered saws. These are often called partner or k12 saws. The saws can be equipped with multiple blade types for cutting through different materials. Make sure the blade you select is the proper blade for the job. Blades should not be stored in any compartment where gasoline fumes accumulate because hydrocarbons will attack the bonding material in the blades and make them subject to sudden disintegration during use.

And be aware of hidden hazards such as charged electrical wires, gas and water lines. Familiarize yourself with the manufacturer's recommendations and your department's operating procedures. Always protect yourself with full PPE and eye protection, and make sure you have someone backing you up.

The following video from 1991 shows a video of a firefighter close call during truck operations. The firefighter was injured while operating a partner saw, which kicked back during operation, causing a severe cut to the firefighter's face:

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A great recommendation is to have a regular service plan for all power saws in your department. Make sure on shift changes that tools are fueled up, oiled and in good working condition. It is also highly recommended to start tools, run at idle, and test at full throttle. Better to have a tool not work in the firehouse rather then when you are on a roof or trying to rescue one of your own.

The following video highlights a firefighter operating a rotary gas-powered circular saw. Multiple sources put the cause of this close call on the gas cap. The gas cap was not secure during this drill, which meant the firefighter was leaking gas out of the saw during operation. As mentioned earlier, saws can cause sparks during operation, which can potentially ignite flammable liquids or gasses:

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Another popular power saw used in the fire service is the ventilation saw. It's an adaptation of a standard chain saw. The chain saw has been used in the service for years. In terms of power saws, the ventilation saw is relatively new to the service. Some brands such as the Cutters Edge are equipped with a depth gauge and guard. This guard is a great safety device.

In past years, there was an issue with firefighters venting roofs and making cuts too deep into structural framing while using ventilation saws. This created additional hazards to firefighters operating on the roof. Rafters and joists that once had the potential to span 30' at a 12" depth now have been cut to 4" and are carrying the same load. A firefighter making cuts into floor or roof structures always needs to be conscience of the depth of cut and framing they are cutting through. You never want to make cuts that put your team in more danger than they already are in.

The following video highlights the dangers of saws in operation. Sometimes idles are set too high on chain saws and rotary saws. This causes the blade to be in constant motion regardless of what the firefighter does. Always be cautious when moving or transporting power saws when running; blades and chains may be moving at enough speed to cut yourself or others.

A good practice when using a powered rotary or circular saw is to ground out the blade when your cuts are done. This ensures the saw blade has come to a full stop. If the idle is set too high, this will only stop the blade momentarily, so be on the alert of the blade or chain movement when the tool is running.

This wildland firefighter finishes his cut on the tree, but does not allow the blade to come to a full stop. Watch as his saw cuts through his pants:

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These ventilation saws are quite popular and are often more efficient then the rotary circular saws. They can be handled more safely at times, and are able to get in more confined spaces. When equipped with a carbon-tipped chain, depth gauge and kickback protection, the saw makes fast cuts. But these tools should not be used as a metal cutting saw. Familiarize yourself with the manufacturer's recommendations and your department's operating procedures. Be aware of hidden hazards such as charged electrical wires, gas and water lines. And always protect yourself with full PPE and eye protection, making sure you have someone backing you up.

The final video shows a demonstration of a chainsaw kicking back during operation:

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