Former Truck 15’s House– Baltimore, MD

A UNIQUE “TRUCK” HOUSE.  Everybody’s got special interests in the fire service.” If your’s happens to focus on interesting “Enjine’s,”you’ve got pretty fertile territory; there’s likely to be an engine in virtually every fire station you pass– there’s got to be an interesting one every once in a while?  But, those whose preferences stray a little farther afield– say, heavy rescues or squads, haz-mat units, trucks, etc.– have to be more patient, occasionally finding one mixed in with one of those ubiquitous pumpers.  For me, though, the real finds are those scarce single piece fire stations that house only a single, special services unit.

In this regard, it’s hard to imagine a better example than Baltimore’s former Truck 15.  I was introduced to the station by a then-member of the company, Firefighter Jerry Smith, Jr. 15’s was a long, single-bay, turn-of-the-century station, which was occupied by a single Seagrave tractor-drawn aerial– Truck 15.  On arrival, you found a wide street, populated by fairly spartan row-houses, a Baltimore staple.

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Inside the single door of the two-story station was an equally spare daytime environment.  The truck was out when we first arrived.  The front 2/3rds of the station which would normally be occupied by the truck, was flanked by an array of old and older call-taking equipment (on the driver’s side of the truck) and rows of red-doored lockers, some of them with paneled wood doors, others the more modern louvered steel locker-room type. Hanging on the outside of many of the locker’s were the user’s personal day-to-day hand tool(s).

Behind the truck, at the back of the bay was an informal, open-plan “day room” comprised of a mixed bag of lived in, “all-star” furniture.  And, along another outside wall, at the base of a spiral stair to the second floor was a one-wall kitchen with a suspended Pompier ladder forming a  very classy rack for pots and pans.

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TOOL TIPS– JERRY SMITH & THE HAND MAUL.  As we walked by the lockers, Jerry (at the far right in the photo below) mentioned that, on those occasions when he was riding as acting officer, he carried a 3 pound rock hammer (small, short hand maul or sledge) in his pocket.  OK?  Later, as we were about to leave, my curiosity got the best of me– “Why would anyone carry that tool?”  The explanation made lots of sense; in Baltimore, truck officers customary perform forcible entry, by themselves.  Rather than awkwardly trying to strike and drive the Halligan bar with an axe, Jerry (and others?) did so with the rock hammer.

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Nice idea.  I tried it out when I got back home.  A car fire and a separate motor vehicle collision were all it took to convince me that the hand maul and Halligan are a great combination: a) driving the Halligan, alone, with the hand maul is far more efficient– through a combination of kinesthetics (“muscle memory?”)  and the maul’s short handle, you can nail the Halligan virtually every time, even in zero viz; that’s more than most teams can say for the Halligan and flat head axe combination, b) the combination is much lighter than its more conventional “married set” alternative.  It may not be superior to more conventional methods, but given the flathead/Halligan combo’s relative imprecision, on balance, I think its just as good.

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You’ll want to do a little personal experimentation to determine the suitability of a short-handled striking tool as part of your set of irons.  For example, when used with a Halligan that has squared off shoulders at the fork/claw end, the force of the hand maul’s more rounded head is likely to be applied off-center and deflected.  For this application, I prefer the narrower proportions of a 3.5# – 4# flathead axe with a 12″ handle (as demonstrated by Frederick Co., MD, firefighters, above).  The axe seems to work equally well for other purposes, as well.

Of course, most small, short-handled  hammers, axes and mauls don’t exactly invite convenient nesting and/or carry with a Halligan.  Some additional experimentation is likely to be needed for your particular tool of choice.  Welding a steel stirrup on the end of the tool (as some producers do with their mauls and sledge hammers), is probably a pretty practical option [the example below is from Driver/Operator Chad Berg from Snohomish County, Washington Ladder Co. 72, who submitted it to the excellent vententersearch web site, http://www.vententersearch.com/tips.htm].

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Of course, small, short-handled hammers, axes and mauls don’t exactly invite convenient nesting and/or carry with a Halligan.  Welding a steel stirrup on the end of the tool (as some producers/individual users do with their mauls and sledge hammers) is one practical solution– the example above was provided by Driver/Operator Chad Berg from Snohomish County, WA, Ladder Co.72, who submitted it to the excellent vententersearch web site, http:www.vententersearch.com/tips.htm.

TOOL TIPS– BUILDING ON JERRY’S HAND MAUL CONCEPT.Another approach is to secure the striking tool with a spring-loaded, threaded bolt in the gap of the Halligan forks.  A wingnut or knob-type nut is used to tighten the connection as needed.  The spring provides a little tension in the system, to simplify joining and separating the tools (and to take up slack when the Halligan is removed, so you don’t sound as muck like a kindergarten rhythm band).  If this method has any advantages over the stirrup (above), it is that it leaves a good deal of the gap in the Halligan forks exposed for nesting a third tool, as show in the photos.

Note that a “rubber band” of large diameter truck innertube is secured around the Halligan with a larks head knot.  A quick wrap around the tool its nested to and a hook over one of its projections provides a secure union (a loop of paracord through the loose end of the rubber band allows easy connect/disconnect with bulky fire gloves.

TOOL TIPS– A BREACHING PICKHEAD AXE FOR ROOF WORK.  Back at Truck 15’s, with the truck back in quarters, Jerry showed me a few tweaks the company had made on their rig.  First, the tip of the 100′ stick was equipped with a very well-placed 500 Watt flood light, guaranteed to light up not only the contact area of the tip but also the entire roof area beyond.  The crew had also machined out a rounded somewhat sharpened cut in the adze of their Halligan for lock-pulling chores– the obvious advantage of their approach was that it left a very robust leading edge on the adz, rather than the pointed “Devil’s ears” A-tools you commonly see that get peened over so quickly and aren’t aligned when you need them.

To me, the simplest, but neatest, tweak was the very rounded “breaking” edge that Truck 15 had formed on the blade of their pickhead axe.  Although this visit substantially pre-dated the Iron Fox’s popularization of the rounded edge (or, at least, my awareness of it), they were clearly using the same play book.

POSTSCRIPT.  I visited Truck 15 in February of 2012.  At the time, it was the busiest truck in Baltimore.  Nevertheless, as s budget saving measure, the city closed it and demobilized Truck 15, soon after my visit.  The most popular explanation for closing that house was that, since it was surrounded by so many other trucks, it had the territory that could be most easily divided up among other companies.  But the house wasn’t empty long.  It was reopened in July of 2012 by Engine 33 (formerly housed with Truck 5).

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