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Follow the ‘2 hands, 2 tools’ rule: Always grab tools off the truck

Don’t get caught empty-handed at the scene, consuming precious seconds returning to the truck for tools


Proactive instructors and officers will teach their firefighters to always bring a hand tool with them when they arrive on scene of any situation. Never arrive or walk up empty-handed.


A firefighter can only do their job when they have the right tools to do their job.

In the fire service, we have many tools at our disposal for various applications. All our apparatus are stocked with myriad tools based upon the needs of the community – and regardless of the type of apparatus it is, there are some basic hand tools that we’ll find inside.

Proactive instructors and officers will teach their firefighters to always bring a hand tool with them when they arrive on scene of any situation. Never arrive or walk up empty-handed. Some will go one step further and teach the principle of “two hands, two tools,” as was taught to me by FDNY Lt. Michael Ciampo. This principle follows the simple formula that two tools can work together better than one tool. After all, if one hand is available, why not fill it with a hand tool?

The victim is so close, trapped behind the door

The top priority on the fireground is life safety – both civilians and firefighters. Our attention as a firefighter is going to be on the civilian who needs our help – and we want to ensure that we can assist them. A hand tool can often help in this effort.

Today’s video underscores the value of always having a hand tool with you when you arrive on scene.

We see firefighters at the metal screen door of a structure that’s heavily involved in fire. An occupant is laying at the door calling for help, trapped behind a barred door. It is not clear why the occupant cannot open the barred door from the inside, but regardless, he is trapped and at the threshold of escape or death.

No matter the distance from the structure to the truck, it takes time to go back to the truck to get a hand tool or two to assist, as we see in this video. When we preach the message of “seconds count” as a mantra to increase our staffing levels, increase resources such as trucks and stations, we must remember that this also applies to our response efforts – and in the case of a trapped person in their home, seconds do count.

Tools at your disposal

So what hand tools are going to be easy for you to grab and take with you? The most common are going to be forcible-entry tools, like the Halligan and the flat-head axe, but we also have the pick head axe, 6-foot roof hook and the 8-pound sledge. The water can is also considered a hand tool, not in the terms of forcing something open but in buying more time by keeping flames at bay – or even putting out a fire!

The next time you respond to a structure fire, automatic fire alarm, vehicle accident or really any type of call, get into the habit of grabbing a hand tool or two so that you do not arrive empty-handed.

Training time

After watching this video/reading this news story with your company, a department can do the following:

  • Check out the apparatus compartment space to see what hand tools are readily available in the truck to grab when arriving on scene.
  • Discuss what hand tools are going to be optimal to grab off the truck and take with you to the scene.
  • Re-organize the truck’s interior or compartments to arrange hand tools for better access.
  • Train – and train some more – with your go-to tools.

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Editor’s note: What’s your go-to tool to pull off the truck? Share in the comments below.

Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1998, currently serving as a firefighter with the Fort Gratiot Fire Department in Michigan. He is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States and India. He graduated from Seneca College of Applied and Technologies as a fire protection engineering technologist, and received his bachelor’s degree in fire and life safety studies from the Justice Institute of British Columbia and his master’s degree in safety, security and emergency management from Eastern Kentucky University. van der Feyst is the lead author of the book “Residential Fire Rescue” and “The Tactical Firefighter.” Connect with van der Feyst via email.