Outfitting a department with the best firefighter gear means acquiring tools from the past and on the cutting edge
Ask a firefighter what they did on their last job. Nine times out ten, the answer won’t be “fight fires.” In fact, just 4% of calls for assistance require actual firefighting. For every call to a residential house fire, there are dozens for emergency medical assistance, motor vehicle collisions and other emergencies. Each one brings its own demands, needs and dangers, whether that’s blocking off a roadway or performing life-saving CPR. First responders need to be ready for anything a call can throw at them, which means being properly equipped for a job where no two days are ever alike. This guide will help you find the firefighter gear your team needs, from time-tested tools such as axes to modern solutions such as drones and body-worn cameras.
Essential firefighter gear
Given the dangers of the work, firefighting gear must be high-performing and rugged. But it's not as simple as ladders and hoses. Firefighters wear many hats; they may be called on to provide emergency medical treatment, mount a rescue during a natural disaster or respond to myriad other critical situations that require an immediate response. To be prepared for almost anything, these are the firefighter tools and equipment that any squad should have on hand:
Bolt cutters can accelerate access through gates, fences and other blockages, saving precious minutes in time-sensitive crises.
When a door blocks access to the scene, forcible entry axes can chop through. They can also open ventilation holes, create fire breaks and more.
CPR boards ensure the technique has maximum effectiveness, stabilizing the subject no matter the environment and without having to waste time relocating them.
Firefighters can use pike poles, or fire hooks, to retrieve items from a fire and make it easy to tear down pieces of the wall or ceiling to check for still-smoldering fires.
When someone is trapped inside a vehicle frame, hydraulic extraction tools can allow a small team of firefighters to force open or cut through the frame and save the person inside.
For more of the everyday essentials of firefighter gear, read The big list of firefighting tools your department needs.
Wildland firefighter gear
Wildland firefighting adds several new threats to the already dangerous job of fighting fires. Water is far more scarce, the terrain is uneven, the hours are long and relief is hard to find. Containing a blaze in this environment demands special equipment that balances heat resistance with portability and stability.
Wildland firefighter clothing
Fire shirt, pants, overshirt and overpants: Made of fire-resistant (FR) materials such as Nomex or Kevlar, these loose-fitting garments are designed to cover the entire body, fasten at the ends and use bright colors and reflective strips to maintain visibility.
Boots: Lug-soled leather boots stitched with FR threads protect against heat and provide surer footing. Look for an 8-10-inch rise to maximize ankle support on long hikes.
Gloves: Made of leather or lighter FR materials can protect from heat, cuts and punctures.
Fire helmets: Wildland fire helmets resemble construction hard hats and are made of fiberglass or other heat-resistant thermoplastics.
Goggles: Anti-fog goggles with a hard-coated outer lens protect eyes from heat, dirt, ash and more.
Wildland firefighter tools and equipment
Line pack: High-capacity line packs with ergonomic designs carry most of what the wildland firefighter needs each day.
Fire shelter: In an emergency, a firefighter can put up this fiberglass and aluminum tent to survive an unavoidable wall of flames.
Fusees: Wildland firefighters use backfires lit with fusees to control the spread of a burn.
GPS device or map and compass: Firefighters need to be able to navigate to and from the blaze and to communicate their location in case they need support.
Backpack pump: These bladder bags are made of high-strength nylon fabric to carry five gallons of water for fighting fires.
To learn more about the best firefighter gear for wildland environments, read Wildland fire gear: The complete checklist.
Fire cameras: What firefighters should know
The earlier firefighters can respond to a fire, the better they can contain the blaze. Fire cameras are a critical tool in early detection; they can provide round-the-clock surveillance of a region without scaling up headcount. That's especially important when it comes to forestry, where a fire can spark and rapidly spread over vast swathes of country. Incorporating a network of fire cameras can yield several benefits:
Combating labor shortages
Employing human staff to occupy fire towers is expensive, and most departments are forced to limit their use to emergency conditions or particularly dangerous seasons. On the other hand, cameras can provide 24/7, 360-degree coverage at a fraction of the cost. They can even incorporate thermal imaging to detect fluctuations in heat signatures at night. That can give firefighters early alerts about fires.
Cameras can also provide greater situational awareness. Data from stationary cameras can inform firefighters how a given fire will spread. This footage can then stream live to squad leaders and dispatch, who can direct firefighting efforts and issue support based on real-time information.
The result is that cameras keep firefighters out of harm's way even as their situational awareness grows. Equipped with these data streams, they can then plan the best possible response in less time, adapt to rapidly shifting challenges and keep themselves and their communities safer.
To learn more about how cameras support firefighting efforts, read How fire cameras keep communities safe.
The case for drones as a firefighting tool
Fire departments across the country have found drones to be incredibly versatile tools. These eyes-in-the-sky observers can give firefighters a better understanding of the state of a fire, how it might progress and more, all while keeping their operators at a safe distance from the blaze. Drones can also aid firefighters before a fire, in its aftermath and in the wide range of other duties they perform.
While predicting or preventing wildfires is challenging, drones can help fire departments manage their frequency and severity. By deploying drones, wildland firefighters can create detailed maps of forestry, grasslands and other at-risk areas without having to hike out in person. That's especially useful with more than 600 million acres of wildlands to cover nationwide. With drone-created maps in hand, firefighters have an easier job of culling fuel sources and controlling fires should they erupt.
Drone as First Responder (DFR)
Staffing shortages have made it difficult for 911 dispatchers to gather sufficient information in crises, and that hurts firefighters' ability to prepare adequately. Drone as First Responder (DFR) programs supplement that info by deploying and remotely operating drones on a scene. The live footage they return to firefighters on the ground can fill those info gaps. When firefighters know what they’re up against, they can make better and faster decisions on how to help.
Infrastructure damage caused by a disaster can make it impossible for aid to reach those in need. Getting a handle on the scope of the damage is critical for establishing repair priorities and finding people who still need rescue. With their small size and fine-tuned flight controls, drones can get around damaged roads and fallen power lines to survey the scene. The footage they provide in real-time can then help firefighters coordinate rescue and rebuilding efforts.
To learn more about how drones fit into firefighter tools and equipment, read Top 5 reasons fire departments should have drone programs.
The benefits of body-worn cameras
Body-worn cameras are already commonplace in police work, but fire departments are increasingly turning to them as a valuable way to raise the bar for service. Many of the same benefits felt by police also apply to firefighters.
When firefighters are learning the ropes, they need an example to follow for professional conduct, quick-thinking emergency response, guideline adherence and more. Who better to provide it than your existing firefighters? By adding body-worn cameras to their firefighting gear, they can record their conduct on- and off-site. That footage can then serve as training materials on the myriad services a fire department provides. Even established firefighters can benefit from the footage, as they can view, analyze and improve upon the techniques it records.
Documentation and evidence
A firefighter's job doesn't end when the emergency is over. When they return to the stationhouse, they need to produce a high-quality, accurate report on what took place. But recalling the details of a high-stress emergency is no easy feat. Body-worn cameras provide an objective record of what took place from the firefighter's perspective. That makes it easy to write detailed and precise reports.
This footage also serves as critical evidence in the event of legal proceedings. Body-worn cameras can protect firefighters and their departments from legal liability by recording scene walkthroughs, interviews with witnesses, interactions with civilians and more.
To learn more about how body-worn cameras support firefighters, read Body-worn cameras for firefighters: 5 benefits in the field.
Modern solutions for modern firefighting
Today, technology has a larger role in firefighting than ever before. For example, the Axon Body 4 provides real-time location data and bi-directional communications that empower dispatch to better support firefighters in the field. The high-resolution footage it captures can be livestreamed to dispatch computers. When body-worn cameras are used alongside Axon Air drones, the combination provides unparalleled situational awareness. Axon’s Fire solutions incorporate these pieces of technology and more to meet the needs of modern fire departments. Wondering if the Axon Fire ecosystem is right for you? Talk to an Axon professional today.