Why do Firefighters even need a knife?
I was asked this question the other day, by a customer who was purchasing a present for her son (under instructions!). It made me realise that though myself and other firefighters know why, the public probably doesn't, or if you are a new recruit, or just joined your local brigade you may be wondering why carry one. In truth there will be many shifts when it is not used, but another truth is that as firefighters, you never know what scenario you might end up facing. Also I believe the public still thinks that most of what we do is putting out fires, whereas in today's world we attend many non-fire related calls and public engagements.
Some of the uses in non-emergency times are for opening boxes, bags and cartons etc, as a fire station is run like any small business and has deliveries and packages arriving all the time. A large part of our work is spent in fire prevention and here again a knife is sometimes handy when installing smoke alarms, or like I used it yesterday, for getting old ones down off their springy retaining clip.
Storm work is another area of work that the public is largely unaware that we carry out. In NSW the SES would be the main combat agency,but after big storms firefighters are often out tarping roofs and making things safe. This requires lots of lengths of rope cut and sometimes tarpaulin, often whilst working on a roof, again making a good folding knife a valuable tool.
During fires the knife does not get too much use, but before and after, is when it comes in handy. Gaining access by prying locks and removing flyscreens for example, and after a fire it's common to be cutting black plastic and rope and other items for “salvage” work.
However, I think the most obvious time a knife is a good addition to your kit is during rescue incidents. Here it's used to cut away seat belts, clothing,foam, plastic netting, paragliders cord, harnesses and many other things,including fishing line from birds and animals.
It's also often used (but shouldn’t be) as a mini pry bar, peeking behind car interiors, lifting shower drains,prying open plastic covers on all kinds of things.
I could keep on listing uses for a knife,I know mine gets used a lot, but I also want to mention two times I carry it and never use it (or haven’t yet). There are occasions firefighters get entrapped or entangled as we are often operating in dark unknown environments. It’s uncommon but with breathing apparatus on, in the dark,in a burning building or in a confined space a small problem can escalate quickly to a big one. The other time I always make sure I have a knife on me is if I have to wear a Hazmat (F.E.) suit,once you are in those horrible things there is no way to get yourself out, without a knife. Now in theory you shouldn’t have to, as you would be in a very toxic environment, but again you never know what situations might unfold. In these last two situations just carrying my folding knife gives me a small peace of mind feeling and options I wouldn’t have otherwise.