Hooks and history: How pike poles came to be a firefighter’s most trusted tool

With origins in warfare, pike poles and hooks evolved to serve a variety of functions, including modern firefighting


The pike pole is one of the most versatile of firefighters’ tools, and it has a long history in the fire service.

With its several variations and lengths, this jack-of-all-trades can be used in a multitude of functions. From the early days of stopping fire extension through neighborhoods to forcible entry and salvage techniques, it is no wonder why the pike pole is routinely put to work every single day by firefighters everywhere.           

The earliest resemblances to pike poles and hooks carried by today’s firefighters originated in Europe around the 12th century. They were developed to be used as weapons for soldiers. These earliest pike poles were refined by loggers and ice fisherman hundreds of years ago to meet the needs of their industry.

From the early days of stopping fire extension through neighborhoods to forcible entry and salvage techniques, it is no wonder why the pike pole is routinely put to work every single day by firefighters everywhere.
From the early days of stopping fire extension through neighborhoods to forcible entry and salvage techniques, it is no wonder why the pike pole is routinely put to work every single day by firefighters everywhere. (Photos/Vince Bettinazzi)

In the 1600s, the modern-style pike pole was manufactured and used for the demolition of homes and businesses in order to create fire breaks to stop the massive conflagrations that routinely swept through cities. Large metal rings were attached to the exterior walls of buildings in order for these long pike poles to latch onto and tear them down. Sadly, this was one of the only effective methods to stop the spread of fire, as substantial fire pumps and water delivery methods did not yet exist.

Today’s fire service hooks are relatively young when compared to the pike poles of yesteryear. The famous New York roof hook or Halligan Hook was created in the 1950s by FDNY Deputy Chief Hugh Halligan. Other city-specific fire hooks like the Chicago Hook, the Denver Hook, the Boston Rake and the San Francisco Hook emerged within the same century. These hook variations were developed to effectively tear apart the type of building construction routinely encountered by these firefighters, such as lath and plaster or tongue and groove.

Modern pike poles and hooks can be several different lengths, with 6 feet generally being the desirable length for reach and leverage. The shaft of these tools is commonly made of either metal or fiberglass, with the latter providing some conduction protection for the user in the event that the tool comes in contact with energized wires or equipment.

Finding hidden pockets of fire and conducting overhaul is a primary utilization of the tool. Firefighters will breach the ceiling with the ends and points of the hook and pull down pieces of sheetrock and plaster to the floor. This contributes to the complete extinguishment of the fire.

Although we are no longer tearing down entire houses, the pike pole is one of the best tools for opening up walls and ceilings in order to check for the fire’s extension and stop it. The several variations of today’s hooks all serve a valuable purpose in completing overhaul tactics on the fire scene.

In addition to overhaul, fire departments everywhere carry these tools to assist in ventilation tactics, forcible entry, fireground search and ingenious salvage tricks.

An FDNY book included this description of the Floor Above Thermal Set (FATS).
An FDNY book included this description of the Floor Above Thermal Set (FATS).

Hooks and pike poles are often carried along with another tool. Riding positions often determine what will be carried with the hook. For example, a 6-foot hook and water can is often carried by the “can position,” while a firefighter filling the “outside vent” position will carry a 6-foot hook and a Halligan bar.

One extremely interesting tool setup and use for a New York hook and a Halligan bar derived from the FDNY. The two tools were married together by a chain or rope that was carried by a firefighter assigned to ventilation. The F.A.T.S., as it was called, stood for Floor Above Thermal Set, and allowed the firefighter to systematically break out windows from either the roof or floor above the fire.

The hooks of the fire service have a storied history to match their multiple variations and functions. What was once designed to be a weapon will remain a trusted armament for firefighters for the foreseeable future.

Note: Myrtle Beach Firefighter Ryan Murphy contributed to this article

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