Axes, in general, have been used as weapons and as tools. Examples of axes as tools are as follows:
- Double bit axe
- Firefighter’s axe, fire axe, or pick head axe:
- Ice axe or climbing axe:
- Lathe hammer
- Slater’s axe
- Splitting maul
- Hammer axe
For this post, I am concentrating on the firemen’s or firefighter’s axe (also called a fire axe).
While this history of the use of the fire-axe is hard to trace, it is safe to assume that the use of the fire axe in fighting fires has probably been around as long as the act of fighting fires. The first recorded “hafted” axes dates back to about 6,000 BC
A Fire axe is a special type of axe used by firefighters, typically featuring a pick-shaped pointed poll (area of the head opposite the cutting edge) and in a vivid color to make it easily visible during an emergency.
There are 3 parts to the fireaxe (or any kind of axe)
- cutting wedge, or blade of the axe (used for cutting & prying)
- striking face, or rear of the axe head
- “haft” or handle of the tool. It is where the axe is gripped in use.
Typically, the head of the axe is also painted in bright colors which make it easy to distinguish in conditions of low visibility, and the pick and head may be painted in different colors so that firefighters can be sure they are working with the right end.
The haft or handle is treated to make it fire resistant and is attached especially firmly to ensure the head does not fly off.
There are two basic types of Fire axes. A Flat-Head and Pick-Head. The Flat-Head has a single wedge for cutting into objects. It is commonly used as a striking tool for foricible entry. A Pick-Head – has a cutting wedge on one side and a pointed pick on the other. The pick end is commonly used to make a starting point in which to begin cutting or as a way of pulling at material.
The fire axe has a variety of uses on the fireground:
- -Forcible entry.
- Together with the halligan bar the flathead axe makes a set that firefighters call “the irons” or “the marriage.” This combination of a prying tool and a striking tool are used primarially to achieve entry into locked buildings to allow firefighters to perform search and rescue ops, as well as to put out the fire. There are also techniques that can be used to make entry with just the flathead axe. It is less reliable than using the irons, but in certain situations may be necessary or may be quicker.
- -Search and Rescue.
- The flathead axe is one of the main tools that firefighters use once they’ve gained entry to search a burning building for victims. The axe is gripped near the head and the haft is used as an extension of the arm to allow the firefighter to search a larger area in zero-visibility conditions.
- The flathead axe can be used to chop and smash through areas when firefighters are performing overhaul. Overhaul is when we check for fire extension into walls and ceilings to prevent a fire that we believed had been extinguished from rekindling. Pike poles are more frequently used for this work, but in some situations the flathead will be a better choice of tool.
The best I can find, fire axes are available in 6 and 8 pound head weights with 28″, 32″, and 36″ handle lengths that can be made of either wood or fiberglass.
A little side note: A Marriage set or “Irons” is made up of a Halligan tool (named after Hugh Halligan in the 1940’s) interlocked with a Flat-Head axe. It is commonly used for forcible entry
There are a number of brands of fire axes out there Such as
- Leatherhead Tools
- United Shield
- Rings Manufacturing
(What do you or your department use?)
Join me on an A to Z Journey of firefighting tools throughout the month of April. I appreciate feedback. Please keep in mind that I am not (nor do I pretend to be) a firefighter or a member, either volunteer or paid, of the fire service. My purpose here is to pass on knowledge that I find in hopes to both bring awareness to the fire-service and to help those in the profession do their job safer and better.