Pockets Aren't Just Hand Warmers
A brief rundown of essential tools to carry & where
By Robert L. James III

Often new firefighters are unaware of the things they need to carry in their pockets to do the job. Even experienced firefighters may be missing the opportunity to maximize their pocket space; I've run across firefighters who have no idea what's in their own pockets.

Ladies and gentlemen, pockets are not just hand warmers. And when you put your hands in your pockets to pull out the tools or equipment you need, you shouldn't be surprised by what you find.

Some important questions that you need to ask yourself when purchasing tools you will carry in your pockets include: Is this something that I'm going to use often? Is this a tool that I will be able to get out of my pockets in a hurry if needed?

Photo 1: Left Chest (Radio Pocket)
Tools carried: cable cutters/linesman pliers

Photo 2: Left side waist pocket

Tools carried: In addition to extrication gloves and safety glasses, I carry a spring-loaded center punch, shove knife, universal screwdriver w/adapters, hex keys, seatbelt cutter, pocket knife, valve stem remover and door chocks. You can never have enough door chocks!

Photo 3: Flashlight strap

Tools carried: This is a great place to keep a second light. I always wear a Survivor Vulcan box light with a break-a-way buckle over my shoulder as a primary source of lighting. Remember: Always have at least one hand light on you at all times.

Photo 4: Right side waist pocket

Tools carried: 7 feet of utility webbing looped with a carabiner. The bailout kit consists of 45 feet of 8-mm rope, a descending device and 2 carabiners. One goes on the end of rope for quick connection to access points, and the other caribiner on the descending device that I can connect to myself. The webbing loop is great for dragging downed firefighters. This bailout kit is used only for emergencies; rope is never used as utility rope.

I've found that the best way to outfit your pockets is to make a list of the types of calls that your company runs. Use this information to determine what types of tools you need without having to return to the rig every time. After identifying the necessary tools, assemble them in your pockets in a way that they can be easily deployed.

The type of gear, total number of pockets and the placement of clips all affect how and where you will store your tools. I highly recommend that when setting up your pockets, place the tools that you use frequently in one pocket and the tools needed for RIT or bailout kits in another pocket. Remember: All tools should be easily accessible. If you put your tools in a pencil pouch or something as simple as a Crown Royal bag, it keeps your sharp tools from going through your pockets and destroying your turnout gear.

The pictures to the left demonstrate some tools I carry in my turnout gear to fit my day-to-day operations.

Robert James is a career firefighter with Frederick (Md.) County Fire Rescue. He's been in the fire service for 10 years and is a certified level I instructor.

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Comment by Henry on December 7, 2010 at 10:28pm
left for life, bailout kits, etc right for rescue... webbing sling, window punches, knives and shit.
Comment by JIM PAYNE on October 29, 2009 at 9:57pm
As always great article, as you have said numerous times everyone has to assess the needs of the service you provide and choose your pocket tools wisely............... Jim
Comment by Scott Morgan on October 25, 2009 at 1:18pm
In addition to the above Items, I recomend a pair of Vise Grips. They can be used to remove a Cylinder Lock from a commercial door, and the cylinder can be threaded back in to secure the structure. In addition, when entering a Garage with an overhead door, The door can be clamped in the up position. Add a small dog leash to the Vise grip, And you can securly hold a case hardened lock out for easy cutting with a circular saw, Keeps your fingers clear of the blade.
Comment by Michael Brittain on October 19, 2009 at 9:27am
Thank you for the Great Guidelines. I have been an EMT for about a year now and I am currently in the Cy-Fair Volunteer FF Cadet Training Program. I have yet to see anything more than the "Live Burns" in class but even in those I've seen where "Tools-On-Hand" can be a huge benefit. The biggest problem initially is knowing WHAT to have on hand and why, without loading yourself down with a truck full of tools. This article gives a great understanding of what tools and why without overdoing it. Thanks again.
Comment by Robert James III on October 15, 2009 at 4:34pm
Sorry it’s been a while before posting for you guys! A couple of things:

1) The reason why I keep the linesman/cable cutters where I do is for the simple fact that when you are crawling the only way to get to your pants pocket is to do a modified stance to open the Velcro of the pocket or to stand up. When you have all your gear and SCBA on you essentially compress your gear downward, making it hard to get to anything in your lower extremity pockets. You never want your body in the superheated atmosphere. There is a difference in cutters! Please make sure you buy the Wide mouth, linesman pliers. They may run you $20 or so, but what’s that when it comes to your life?

2) The valve stem remover is for auto accidents. We like to deflate the tires onto the step chocks. This guarantees stabilization as well as makes a solid base for no movement of the car if you are extricating. At the end of the accident we inflate the tires back up for the tow truck operators to roll onto the roll backs or tow trucks.

3) The bailout pocket is just what it is! There is nothing else that goes into this pocket. This pocket is kept clean and free of debris as well. It’s up to you to train on the rope or webbing and knowing how you are going to use it when the time comes (hopefully never).

4) Door Chocks: As stated in the article, they are great to have and always make sure that you have them, but please make sure you know where they are when you need them.

5) Understand what I do may not necessarily work for you, but it works for me and a lot of the people I teach. I do stress that no matter what you do, make sure you know what you have, how to get to it easily, and where it is located. Thank you all for enjoying the article and feel free to ask any other questions.

Robert James
Comment by ff922 on October 8, 2009 at 3:36am
to all my fellow brothers and sisters in the fire service who is to say what is right and what is wrong??? i ask each and everyone of you to go outside of the box and think with your brain on each and evry call you go on, what will work, what might work, and what can i do to save my own ass!!! all of these are great ideas!!! i thank you all, life is nothing but a learning experance and thats what this is for!!!
Comment by Kevin " Bucky" Ayers on October 8, 2009 at 1:37am
Instead of a valve stem remover I carry 4 clip on air chucks let the air out of tires and then use scba tanks to inflate back
Comment by Fred Eppinger on October 6, 2009 at 12:01am
fdf922, yes I was joking about the tires, I knew what they were for. But, I have done the leaky coupling thing on a convertible with the top down.
Comment by Eric Hickerson on October 5, 2009 at 11:21pm
Like your tools, but I would add vise-grips. Heavy, but very useful.
Comment by BRUCE M. DAVIS on October 1, 2009 at 8:34pm
Valve stem removers are ok, but I rather use a 8" pair of Channel Locks to rip out the tire valve to deflate the tires. It's a lot quicker and the tool can be used for many more things. The car is going up on a roll-back anyway.

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