A “Ringer” for the Iowa-American “Stinger”

LIEUTENANT MICHAEL SKIDMORE, MONTGOMERY COUNTY (MD). A couple of months ago, a friend sent this shot of a day-to-day “worker” tool used by Lieutenant Michael K. Skidmore, Junior of the Montgomery County (MD) Fire & Rescue Services. At the time of the photo, Lt. Skidmore was a fairly recent promotion and was rotating among several different stations. That definitely keeps a new officer hopping. Nevertheless, his tool looks as bright and ready-to-go as the day it was assembled.

MW Hx Skidmore Mont. Co
Lt. Michael Skidmore’s “Stinger” tool. Photo courtesy of Robert “RJ” James.

HAWK TOOLS– OLD AND NEW. But, it’s actually been around awhile. For people who are only familiar with the latest MalvenWorks version of this hook, it probably looks like just another well-personalized example of the Hawk/Raptor combination. But, those who know a little more about its history will recognize right away that this is an earlier example of the tool when it was produced by forerunner Iowa-American Firefighting Equipment (IA-AM). The tip-off is the handle; the yellow solid fiberglass handle stock, orange silicone grip (under a more recent spiral wrap), and the long stainless steel sleeve where the fiberglass connects to the Hawk head, are telltale signs of early IA-AM production. Currently, the most commonly specified handle material is tubular steel (1″ O.D. chrome-molybdenum), normally dark gray in color.

There are also several, more subtle differences between the original Hawk Tool (the Iowa-American “Phase V,” as its been called) and the current MalvenWorks model. Most notably, the actual shape of the Hawk head has undergone some refinement. On the new version: a) the width of the tip and “wedge” is a little larger, b) the curved lower edge, the “longitudinal blade” has a more pronounced curve or “belly,” and c) the steel used is investment cast 17-4 stainless, versus the more malleable, sand-cast 316 stainless used in the originals (see photo comparison, below).

Side-by-side comparison of two 36″ Hawks. The top version is the original “Stinger” tool– both end pieces were silicone-cast stainless, joined by a solid fiberglass handle. The lower tool is the current MalvenWorks version with a tubular chrome-molybdenum handle.

THE “STINGER” TOOL. Lt. Skidmore’s version of the Hawk also has the distinction of being the first model to introduce the “Raptor” tool end (the end that strongly resembles the shape of the Boston Rake tool).  Surprisingly, though, despite their tendency to give seemingly every single prototype step in the development a new tool its own unique name and entry in the catalog, Iowa-American never gave this one any name, at all. Instead, it was simply described, anonymously, as part of the tool they called the “Stinger.”

Stinger End 2
The new unnamed tool end introduced as part of IA-AM’s “Stinger” tool in the late ’80s. The tool didn’t get its own name, “Raptor,” until its reintroduction by Aazel, MalvenWorks’ predecessor, in 2011.

The new part was intended to be an alternative to the D-handle– a sort of “half-D”– that would add prying utility to any of the hooks in IA-AM’s line. At the time, the popularity of the Halligan bar and New York Roof hook (both double-ended tools) was well established. But, this was many months before the avalanche of other double-ended tool combinations started to show up. So, to demonstrate the potential safety, functionality, and appeal of such an option, a mock-up of the newly designed end was assembled with a Hawk Tool head on the other end of a 36″ fiberglass handle.

This complete package was presented, fairly informally, to IA-AM’s owner, Marty Vitale (even though only the new hook end was under consideration). Marty said it reminded him of a scorpion’s tail and suggested calling it the “Stinger.” The resemblance was pretty obvious, so the label seemed like a good fit. When this end option was under development, it was always envisioned as a handle option for all of IA-AM’s hooks (although nobody actually asked). So, it was assumed that Marty’s “Stinger” label applied specifically to the new part. Surprise! The new catalog came out and the Stinger label was applied to the whole tool, describing it vaguely as a combination of a Hawk hook on one end and some anonymous, unnamed thing on the other.

With no part name or number to refer to, it’s no surprise that the new component wasn’t ordered in combination with any hook other than the Hawk. Similarly, even though it was said to be available in “alternate handle lengths to suit your specific needs,” the catalog introduced it as a 36″ tool. With no provision made for specifying another length, virtually all of the Stingers were produced as 36-inchers. It was over 20 years before this “Jake Rake”-like end got its own unique identity (the “Raptor” end), combined use with a variety of other components, and fans of its own.

MW Stinger 2

A RINGER” FOR THE “STINGER.” I’m always happy to see photos of predecessor Iowa-American’s tools, especially my own designs, and particularly those that are still out there in the field, “working.”

But, this one was also a reminder of a funny story related to the introduction of the Stinger. As you can probably imagine, the fire equipment industry has its own share of camaraderie and rivalries amongst its members. Of course, one regular subject of interaction between manufacturers of fire tools is intellectual property– who designed that (is it a copy of something we did?), where did they get the idea (from us?), is it protected by patent or copyright (who owns the rights to it?), is it public domain (can we do something with it?), etc.? Naturally, Iowa-American came in for its share of this kind of scrutiny. One such skirmish occurred shortly after IA-AM’s introduction of the “Stinger.” A short time later, a witty competitor answered with a new product of their own, the “Ringer.”

MW Ringer
Both the Stinger and the Ringer proved to be fairly popular combinations. We’ll leave the Stinger/Ringer comparison to readers. But, a quick check in the dictionary suggests that there’s some interesting karma in play, here.

CONCLUSION. This was an interesting “tipping point” in fire tool design. Before the Stinger, most overhaul tools stuck with a pretty narrow range of end options: a) some of the longer hooks had only their primary tool on one end, with nothing on the other, b) other long-handled tools had ram caps, gas and/or water shut-offs, c) a few– most notably the New York Roof hook– had a prying appendage of some type on the bottom end, and d) a variety of long and short tools could be secured with a D-handle. However, the Stinger and the Ringer, which it inspired, called attention to the potential value of multi-ended tools. The floodgates have opened, greatly expanding the range of multi-functional tools available, and energizing a fresh generation of creative tool designers and innovative new tools.

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