Fire Tools and Communication

hardhat and radio - tools of the firefighterIn the early days of fighting Indiana's wildfires, men battled fire with damp feed sacks and any tool they had at hand. As actual fire tools were developed, the cache of a trained fire fighter included the following tools:

leaf rake

The broom rake was the most common fire tool. The rake quickly clears a path of leaves and is an efficient tool in areas where there is little brush and the primary material burning is leaves.

shovel and axe

The shovel and axe are used in traditional ways. The axe is used to cut limbs and clear logs and other debris in the way of fire line construction. The shovel is used to dig out burning roots, logs, and to bury smoldering fires.

backpack pump

Backpack pumps held 5 gallons of water and use an adjustable pump nozzle to spray a stream of water fairly high into trees to put out smoldering snags.

drip torch

This drip torch, filled with a mixture of diesel and gasoline allows fire fighters to drip a line of fire for backfiring along an established control line.


This tool is a Pulaski, named for a well-known Forest Ranger who heroically saved his crew in a wildfire. The tool combines an axe with a sharpened hoe and has many uses in fire line construction.


Called a flapper, a swatter or a beater, this tool's long handle allows firefighters to stand well back from hot grass fires while literally swatting out the flames with the thick rubber flap. Where ground cover is short, the flapper can be dragged along the fire edge to smother the fire.

council rake

Council Tools are sharp toothed and cut through sod and small roots to clear a fire line.


This McLeod tool is not as common in Indiana but can be used as a rake or as a hoe.

Despite advances in technology, hand tools used in fire fighting have changed little over the years. Fire fighters are still equipped with tools almost identical to those issued to fire fighters a century ago.

leaf blowerOne tool, not available in the early 1900's, but used extensively today is the leaf blower. This backpack, gas-powered tool allows a firefighter to move through a leaf forest much faster than a man with a leaf rake clearing a path to mineral soil through the hardwood leaf cover for a fire line.



fleet of trucks with milk cansIn the 1950's, a new fleet of tank trucks were touted as "putting an end to farmer's despair over fire throughout rural America." These trucks enable rural fire departments to carry 500 to 700 gallons of water down narrow roads or across fields. Produce trucks carrying milk cans filled with water are also used to transport water to the fires (right) and supply pumpers with enough water to fight a blaze.

Roy White in a DNR jeepRoy White, Quartermaster officer for the Indiana Department of Conservation in a 1954 jeep received from the Federal Excess Personnel Property Program (FEPP) and outfitted with an 80 gallon tank, pump, hose reel and hand tools.

Communications Evolve

The U.S. Forest Service made headlines in April 1936 when they announced they would be putting in a telephone line from Bedford to Tell City, with branch lines to all fire towers, camps and ranger stations. Forest Service officials touted the new communication system would "be a great service in fire control."

April 27, 1944, Ed Lee, Assistant Supervisor for the Hoosier National Forest announced "two-way radios had been installed in four ranger towers in southern Indiana" and that four cars with radios would be used for fire fighting and fire prevention. By June, every Forest Service fire tower had radios and two new fire trucks with radios had been procured. The state towers in the area were slower to get radios but by 1957, the Division's Annual Report boasts that the state fire organization had 40 FM 2-way radios for use throughout the state.

Cornell Kemper also remembers the problems with communications during his tenure as a fire warden. By this time, the fire towers had telephones but a condition of appointment for fire wardens was that they also have a telephone. Without radios in the field, Kemper recalls communication was strictly word of mouth or you drove to a local house and asked to use their phones.

Clarisse Carroll notes that part of her job as a tower woman was to keep informed regarding which homes in her area had telephones and what their phone numbers were so she could call them to check out smokes near their homes.

photo of fire dispatcher at work in 1940Here a fire dispatcher in 1940 plots the location of a fire on the fire map from information received by radio from a lookout tower.

truck with shortwave radio in 1954A Forest Ranger communicates by shortwave radio with a lookout tower in 1954 in this historic photo.

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