Fire Rescue Tools: The Flathead Axe
Ever since 9/11, firefighters have come to be more noticed in the public eye. In this series of articles, I will explain some of the common tools and techniques that we use every day to help keep people safe.
The Flathead Axe
Humans have used axes for most of our history. The first recorded hafted axes date from 6,000 BC. The inherent usefulness and versatility of these tools made them an obvious choice for the fire service. The history of the axe in the fire service is hard to trace, simply because of how closely the two have been tied throughout time. Suffice it to say that for as long as people have been fighting fires, there was probably an axe being used to help with it.
The Flathead Axe has three essential parts. First, the cutting wedge, or blade of the axe, this part is used for cutting and sometimes prying motions. Secondly, the striking face, or rear of the axe head. On the flathead axe, the back of the axe is flattened and serves as a striking tool much like a sledgehammer. This is the main difference between the flathead axe, and its cousin the pickhead axe. Finally, there is the "haft" or handle of the tool. It is where the axe is gripped in use.
The flathead axe has many different uses on the fire ground.
-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 primarily 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.
-Overhaul. 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.
Every fire my department goes to, the first man off the truck grabs the flathead axe and the Halligan bar. The "irons man" is in charge of making entry to the building so that teams can perform search and rescue, as well as extinguish the fire.