by Frank Myers
Originally published in MultiBriefs
A good wipe-down assures that those areas where hands are placed are not so greasy as to cause the tool to slip out of one’s hands. Assuring that the items are sharp is much safer than a dull tool, as in axes and pike poles, Kelly tools, Halligan tools, etc.
Nowadays, the handles for axes and pike poles are made out of composite materials or fiberglass. Wood may still be used. The difference is that wood can be repaired, sanded, or painted.
In some instances, boiled Linseed oil can be used rather than varnishes. With the composites and fiberglass, once some breakage or "shredding" occurs on the handle, the tool probably needs to be taken out of service due to creating a hazard for those using them — especially close to the axe head, pike pole end or at the bottom of the sledgehammer head.
There needs to be scheduled maintenance days when the station personnel should paint, refresh, sharpen, and inspect all the forcible entry, power, and hand tools on the truck. It goes without saying that after any use of any tool, it should always be wiped down and checked to assure proper functioning for future use. Basically, be operation-ready 24/7/365.
The cosmetic part of it should not be overdone. It needs to be enough to look good, but not to the point that you cannot see any damage in case it occurs.
I remember the axe heads assigned to a quint apparatus at one of our stations were never painted. They maintained them by keeping them well-sanded/polished and oiled. That way they could see any defects in the axe head. Simplicity sometimes is the best option.
There are many good references out there about "sharpening" axes. One of the best, believe it or not, is the Boy Scouts' field handbook. Every station should have a shop area that has a workbench, grinder, vice, storage cabinets, etc. where regular maintenance takes place. It should become routine for all members to participate in maintenance projects as part of their regular duties.
Members should also do regular research and training about techniques and modifications that can be made to the tools to enhance performance and efficiency. There are myriad resources that have very simplistic techniques and adaptations for firefighting tools.
When I go to different firefighting conventions, there are always booths that have new and improved hand tools fabricated by innovative individuals with great skill sets.
These types of individuals probably exist in your department. You need to tap into their thoughts, skills and abilities. There are always unique situations where, if a tool was designed slightly differently, it would greatly improve its use to be more efficient.
FDNY is great at doing this. After reading several tactics books in my career, I see that many of their modifications occur from necessity.
Adding a loop at the end of a Halligan allows you tie a utility rope through it and to enable a firefighter to swing it, for instance, to break windows on a floor below for ventilation.
Adding a chain to a pair of vice grips allows a firefighter to hold a lock in place during forcible entry without getting burned from the friction generated by the power saw or be in close proximity of the spinning blade.
Flipping the saw power blade to the other side of the operating arm where the belt drive is located can give you more options to access to door jams and rabbeting.
There are many items that need sharpening beside axes — duckbills, claws, pike, adz ends of forcible entry tools and others. This applies basically to anything that needs to cut or chop or shear away different types of materials or objects.
Unless there is a catastrophic failure of the tool, there is no reason that it needs to go in for repair or replacement.
In other words, just because the axe is dull, the power saw is flooded or won't start because there is no spark, it should not need to go to your department's logistics section. These minor repairs can be done in-house at the station.
Senior firefighters need to grasp the younger generation getting employed now and show them the ropes. Give them the necessary knowledge, skills and abilities to do the common tasks when it comes to tool maintenance.
Teach them to pick up a paintbrush, turn a wrench, troubleshoot small engines, proper use and techniques for using tools, basic carpentry skills, etc. We need to pass this knowledge on to every generation of firefighters so they pass it on for years to come — maintain the legacy!