Modern turnouts certainly contain more “cargo space” than gear from previous decades, so it’s no surprise that firefighters are filling the extra space with their favorite tools. Ask any firefighter to empty the pockets on their turnout gear and it's likely you'll have enough inventory to stock a small hardware store. From pliers and screwdrivers to nylon webbing and multi-tools, your average firefighter is ready for whatever comes next.
In 2013, I posed the question “what’s in your turnout coat pockets?” to Facebook community and revealed the answers in an article of the same name. Six years later, we posed the same question to the FireRescue1.com Facebook community, as well as my own social network, to see what’s changed over the years – or if we’re sticking to our old standby tools.
Tools that firefighters carry
Pete S.’s response was indicative of the volume and variety of tools firefighters carry in their pockets: “Officer’s tool, couple of door chocks, 6-plus-foot piece of 2-inch webbing tied in a loop, multi-tool attached to bunker pants, rescue harness I would don before putting on my bunker coat and 50-feet of single-use rescue rope small diameter for self-rescue kept in small deployment bag.”
Following are the most common responses we received about the tools that firefighters are carrying in their turnout gear (in no particular order), along with some quotes from individuals about how or why they carry the tools:
- 6-foot multi-purpose hook
- Heavy-duty carabiners
- Multi-purpose tool (e.g., Leatherman or Gerber)
- Wire cutters/pliers/Channellocks
- Doorstops/chocks: “Rubber doorstop made out of tire inner tube with 3 x's cut to fit over different size doorknobs that blocks the lock.” – Roger W.
- Vise grips
- Folding spanner wrench
- Four-way screwdriver: “Was my most used device and the one that stayed for the most years. Important that it is the type where if you remove the bits, it becomes a 5/16" and 1/4" nut driver. Comes in very handy when you have crawled all the way under the house and now you need to pull the side off the HVAC unit.” –Stuart S.
- 2-inch webbing (various lengths were listed ranging from 8-feet to 20-feet)
- Sprinkler wedges
- Work gloves, extrication gloves
- Spring-loaded center punch
- Non-contact voltage meter
- EMS gloves
- Waterproof notebook w/pen
- Paramedic scissors: “A few years ago, I needed to open up some aluminum siding on a house quick, but with a person on the other side of it, heavy tools were not a good idea. Out came the paramedic scissors – a minute’s work, and the wall was open.” – Ed W.
Several responses also mentioned the Halligan and flathead axe – called “the marriage” by one member – but I can’t picture a turnout pocket large enough to fit those tools!
One of my favorite responses came from Paul G., who may have figured out a clever approach to the tool-carrying: “I learned a long time ago that the only thing you had to carry was what was going to save your butt. For anything else you just asked, ‘Anyone have a [fill in the blank],’ and six or eight firefighters would pull one out with a real proud look on their face and be happy they finally got some use out of whatever it was that they carried. Saved me a lot of hassle.”
I also appreciated this response from my former colleague at Chesterfield (Virginia) Fire and EMS Department, Captain (ret.) Michael Brigiati: “When captain of Station #14, we conducted a class of sorts where we not only displayed what was pocketed, but listened as to ‘why’ some [tools] were kept and other discarded. What intrigued me most was the ‘why.’ Great insight into the character of the firefighter – what was important to them. The greatest ‘resource’ has less to do with the tool, per se, than who wields it and why.”
Tools in the turnout gear: How much is too much?
More space equals opportunity to carry more stuff, but does that translate into being better equipped? Let’s be real. How much of that stuff in your pockets ever sees the light of day except when you're washing and drying your gear? It’s an important question to consider when selecting the right tools to fill that valuable space.
Further, carrying lots of tools in your turnout gear may encourage what I call the “round peg in the square hole syndrome.” Who hasn’t seen a fellow firefighter try to make a tool – the one in their pocket – fit the task they are trying to accomplish (usually with a less than desirable outcome), rather than taking the extra time to get the right tool for the job?
Nathan B. shared this piece of advice to consider: “Carry what you feel is needed, but don’t forget the GOLDEN RULE! If you have to take your gloves off to get something out of your pockets, you are carrying too much stuff!”
Tool contamination and cleaning
Another reason to limit the amount of stuff carried in your turnout gear pockets – one that’s become more of a priority in recent years: Whatever is in your pockets must be cleaned after you’ve worked in the hot zone of a structure fire. Even if it wasn’t out of your pocket.
Apart from particulates, like soot, pretty much every other chemical, chemical compound and carcinogen to which you’re exposed during interior structural firefighting is a gas. And that means those gases are completely enveloping you from the moment you enter the IDLH, and those gases are getting into the turnout coat pockets, especially those soft items, like gloves and nylon webbing.
Do a turnout pocket audit
Instead of using your turnout gear pockets as a toolbox or personal care compartments, consider “emergency use only” items, such as the following, which you can keep in a plastic bag that can be replaced after every exposure:
- 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’ve missed the critical timeframe to make a difference.
- 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 that you should use regularly. Emergency scenes are rife with noise pollution. Over time these things add up to hearing loss.
Take a good look at what’s in your turnout coat pockets and why you carry them. Keep those items of real value and protect them from contamination while they’re in your pockets.