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 MARCUS STATION5 on September 30, 2009 at 2:31pm
DON'T YOU HAVE A HARD TIME ACCESSING COAT HIP POCKETS WITH YOUR SCBA ON? NOTHING IN YOUR PANTS' LEG POCKETS? I'M TRYING TO LEARN HERE, MY COMPANY'S VOLUNTEER AND WE DON'T SEE MUCH ACTION...WE HAVE TO LEARN FROM OTHERS.

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