Gear Review: The Bowring Fire Tool

Last tour, I was fortunate enough to find myself in the middle of a drill with the guys from Rescue 1. Having found "The Bowring Fire Tool" on the internet, they had two of them on loan to play with, and were putting it through its paces. Heralded as "pound-for-pound, the most versatile fire tool ever," we set up a few scenarios and took some pictures and video footage for any interested parties.

According to the website, the functionality of the tool is as follows:

  1. 1 1/2" pin lug spanner
  2. 2 1/2" pin lug spanner / carabiner attachment
  3. oxygen bottle valve wrench
  4. "figure-8" section, usable in various rope scenarios
  5. hose cradle, usable for 1" to 1 3/4" hose
  6. spanner wrench tip
  7. gas shut-off wrench
  8. carabiner attachment point
  9. Storz coupling notch
  10. 2", 2 1/2", or 3" hose cradle
  11. "RIT FF drag, glass ripper, and mattress hook" (their words, not mine)
  12. water shut-off / optional gas shut-off

Our first scenario was the Nance Drill. A firefighter was placed below-grade with an approximately 4'x4' opening above him; a loop of charged hoseline was then inserted into the opening, allowing the "downed" firefighter to stand on the hose and be lifted up by two or more firefighters above him. Pictures do a better job of explaining it than I do, to be honest.

Normally, this difficult aspect of this drill lies in gripping the hoseline effectively while you're trying to lift the firefighter below. The Bowring Tool (utilizing feature #5 above) claims to allow firefighters to easily gain purchase on the hose and bring the downed firefighter up and out of the hole more quickly. We found that it works… sort of. The videos on the website show firefighters demonstrating the tool with a relatively dry hoseline, and it appears to work well. However, we chose to make the situation as close to actual conditions as we could, and soaked the hoseline with water before we attempted the drill; as you'll see in the following videos, the Bowring functioned more as a squeegee than a hose-gripper-thingee, as they claim.

 

The summary of our findings during the Nance Drill were:

  • the hoseline needs to be pretty rigid for the tool to grip effectively. the 1 1/2" hoseline charged to 130 p.s.i. that we started with did not allow the tool's camming action to grip the hose properly—it more bent it than gripped it. Raising the engine pressure to 160 p.s.i. solved the problem.
  • the more you can crank back on the tool while pulling, the better; most of the "squeegee" action you see in the videos was due to not bending the Bowring far back enough. It's something that can be learned after you do it a few times, but I wouldn't expect someone who's never used it before to know why this is important.
  • a wet hoseline is definitely going to be more slippery than a dry one; unfortunately, your hoselines in these kind of situations will almost always be soaked, and there's no avoiding that. Maybe some knurling or other grippy stuff on the Bowring might help?

Long story short, the tool has its advantages. It's pretty neat that it incorporates multiple different functionalities into something that fits into your coat pocket; however, I'm always wary of the typical downfall of the "all-in-one" tool—it does lots of stuff pretty well, but nothing exceptionally well. The spanner wrenches/valve shut-offs are pretty standard, I wouldn't expect any difficulties there (and the tool appears to be sturdy and well-made). With a bit of practice, one can figure out the correct sequence of pulling/re-setting/pulling that works, but I certainly wouldn't trust someone unfamiliar or unpracticed with the device to use it effectively. Although, practice makes perfect with every tool. I'd be curious to see if it actually rips through drywall and siding as effectively as the testimonials on their website claim; another drill for another day, I suppose.

We did play around to find different uses for it; our most interesting discovery that we could use an uncharged hoseline (say, if we had a hose rack on our shoulder and were still making our way up in a high-rise) hitched through the tool as an effective hauling system for our man in the hole. Quick to set up, and our 1 1/2" hose fit through the largest hole in the Bowline fairly easily without any concern that it would slip or move while in operation. It gave us a large, serviceable hook that we could attach to multiple points on a firefighter in full SCBA.

Some of the Squad guys weren't thrilled about it, but I was fairly impressed. Call me young, or naive, or whatever—but I somewhat liked it. For $125, do you think it's worth it?

 

 

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Alex Capece

Washington, D.C. Firefighter and Paramedic

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"For anyone who ever wanted to grow up and become a firefighter... from someone who did just that."
March 2012
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