Don’t Forget about the Lesser-Used Tools

Our apparatus compartments are full of equipment that we may be neglecting

By Homer Robertson
Published Saturday, December 22, 2012 | From the January 2013 Issue of FireRescue

A craftsman is defined as a skilled worker or artisan—think of someone working with their hands, using tools to do a job or create something. How do craftsmen become so proficient with their tools? They spend countless hours working with tools and learning the best methods of doing the job at hand. In other words, they master the tool.

Even though we’re not craftsmen in the traditional sense, firefighters are “skilled workers.” As we’re first learning our craft and then throughout our careers, we too must learn to master the tools of our profession. With some tools, that’s easy, because we use them day in and day out. Those are the tools that come off the truck at almost every incident; using them becomes almost second nature.

Then there are the tools that have been on the truck forever, but we rarely or never use them; they’re generally in the back of the compartment or in a storage box on top of the truck. These tools are the ones we need to take out and do a little training with. Remember that they’re more than likely there for a reason; sometime in the past, they served a need, and that time will come again.

In addition, training with the lesser-used tools is self-reinforcing. The more we get them out and knock some dust off them, the more we will think about how to put them in play during a real incident. After an incident, have you ever thought, “I wish we would have thought to use XYZ tool. It sure would have made the job go more smoothly”? Well, if you train regularly with tools, you’ll be more likely to remember them—and therefore use them—during incidents. If you’re not deploying the right tools for the job, it’s a good sign that you’re not training with them enough.

Tip: Mount tools as close to the point of use as possible on the apparatus, and keep equipment that may be used in similar operations grouped in the same area of the apparatus. Example: Store all the auto extrication tools or forcible-entry tools in the same compartment.

Let’s take a look at three lesser-used tools that can be of great assistance on the fireground.

Piercing Applicator
For getting water into concealed areas that are difficult to penetrate, there’s nothing better than the piercing applicator (PA). The PA comes in several lengths, from three to six feet or longer. Some versions can be attached to another unit to make very long sections, allowing you to reach those high, hard-to-reach locations, such as the ceiling of a commercial building.

The PA features a hardened point at one end and a striking point on the other. Using a maul, flat-head axe or sledgehammer, you hit the striking point to drive the point end into the space you’re trying to reach. The PA can penetrate a variety of materials, including wood, lightweight metal and even some masonry sidings.

The PA has a multitude of uses other than the obvious one of punching through walls. A great drill would be to just set the PA on the table and ask, “Where can we use this that we’re not using it today?” Firefighters love this kind of training because they can use their imaginations. 

But in case the ideas aren’t flowing, consider these uses for the PA:

  • From below an attic fire or from above, off of an aerial ladder or roof ladder, to control a fire in the attic space while limiting your exposure.
  • Through the grill of a car fire when encountering those hard-to-open hoods.
  • Into hay bales, baled paper or cardboard.

Using the PA, you can achieve flows as high as 125 gpm with very little nozzle reaction because of the way the discharge orifices are drilled. Many departments are finding success with using Class A foam through the PA.

Cellar Nozzle
Also referred to as the distributor or Bresnan nozzle, the cellar nozzle is an old-school piece of equipment with nine holes it in that produce a water stream up, down and out all at the same time and in a spinning motion. It comes in both a 1½" version that will flow 100 gpm and a 2½" version that will produce 250 gpm. Depending on how much line is needed, an in-line valve should be placed in the line so you can control and shut off the flow of water.

The cellar nozzle was designed to be used in those hard-to-reach basement fires where the line could not push down the stairs from the interior to achieve a knockdown on the main body of the fire. Crews would cut a hole in the floor to provide access to the basement, then lower the cellar nozzle into the opening to knock down the fire.

A good company drill to demonstrate the power of the cellar nozzle: Attach it to a 25–50' section of 2½" hose that’s attached to the discharge of your aerial ladder or platform. Raise the aerial and extend it out so that the stream will not damage anything. Charge the aerial waterway and try to provide 100 psi to the cellar nozzle.

Most firefighters will expect the line to whip wildly around with the cellar nozzle on the end, but it won’t. It will hang almost straight down while discharging around 250 gpm, covering a very wide coverage area with its stream.

LDH Clamp
The large diameter hose (LDH) clamp can enhance safety and save time on the fireground, but in many departments, it just doesn’t get the use it was meant to get.

As the name implies, it’s basically a large clamp designed to clamp off LDH supply lines. When a pumping apparatus forward-lays an LDH supply line from the hydrant or water supply to the fire scene, a firefighter must remain at the hydrant.

If the hydrant firefighter charges the line before the pump operator is ready, the hosebed of LDH will start popping up like a huge snake out of a basket. But this can be avoided if, after securing the apparatus, the pump operator deploys the LDH hose clamp in the rear of the hose bed. This gives the pump operator additional time to set up, while also allowing the hydrant firefighter to make their way to the fire scene and perform other tasks.

A couple of important points concerning the use of hose clamps: Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations and suggested operator’s guidelines for the type of hose clamp you have. One of the most common mistakes made when deploying hose clamps is placing them too close to the coupling on the LDH, along with not tightening them down on the hose to prevent them from sliding down the line when the hose is charged. If the LDH hose clamp comes off the hose, it can hit anyone operating nearby. If it slides down the line until it hits a coupling, it can make the line difficult to operate.

Search Your Compartments
Each of us has some long-forgotten, underused tools on our apparatus that we need to take out of the compartment, both to refresh our own knowledge and to show the newer firefighters how to use them correctly. It may not be the one of the tools I’ve discussed here, but they’re out there, and they were put on the truck for a reason. To master our craft, we must master our tools—and training is the way to do just that.

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For getting water into concealed areas that are difficult to penetrate, there’s nothing better than the piercing applicator. Photo Glen Ellman
The cellar nozzle was designed to be used in those hard-to-reach basement fires where the line could not push down the stairs from the interior. Photo Glen Ellman
Using an LDH hose clamp on supply line can buy time for the pump operator and allow the hydrant firefighter to proceed to the incident scene for other tasks. Photo Glen Ellman


Don’t Forget about the Lesser-Used Tools

Our apparatus compartments are full of equipment that we may be neglecting
For getting water into concealed areas that are difficult to penetrate, there’s nothing better than the piercing applicator. Photo Glen Ellman


The cellar nozzle was designed to be used in those hard-to-reach basement fires where the line could not push down the stairs from the interior. Photo Glen Ellman


Using an LDH hose clamp on supply line can buy time for the pump operator and allow the hydrant firefighter to proceed to the incident scene for other tasks. Photo Glen Ellman

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