Tools of the Trade in the Ferndale Fire Department

Tools of the Trade in the Ferndale Fire Department

(Crystal A. Proxmire 1/12/2011)

When Dennis Warrilow began working at the Ferndale Fire Department nearly 25 years ago,  some of the equipment for rescuing people and putting out fires was not as advanced as it is today.  But yet, many of the tools of the firefighter’s trade are basics that have saved lives for over a hundred years.  At the FPD they use a combination of old school gear, new technology, manpower and a whole lot of water to keep homes and people safe.

Warrilow, an Engineer and EMT (Emergency Medical Technician), gave the Ferndale 115 News a tour of the main fire station (1635 Livernois) and explained what it is they are doing when they arrive at a home, business, or other fire emergency.


The City of Ferndale has two fire stations.  The main one is at 1635 Livernois, which is where the administrative offices are located and where three of the City’s four fire trucks are kept.  The second station, at 1070 E 9 Mile Rd, houses the fourth engine and an ambulance.

A back up ambulance is in storage.  These vehicles are essential for getting the firemen and their equipment to the scene.

The most recent addition to the fleet is a 2009 engine with a ladder on top.  “This one is called an aerial engine,” Warrilow said.  “In most cases we use other ladders, but this one can be used in high rise fires.  It’s mainly a way to get water flowing from up above a fire.”

Warrilow explained how engines have evolved over the years to include more features and conveniences.  The engines are designed to hold four people, and the newest ones have special seats with holes in the middle to store the firefighter’s air tank, while still allowing them to sit safely and comfortably.  This saves space and protects the air tank from getting moved around.  The tanks are stored in the seats of the truck, so that when a call comes in, they are secure and ready to go.

The 2009 model also has system for refilling tanks while on location, instead of having to go back to the station for more air.  There is a compartment of extra tanks and a filling station in one of the many cubbyholes on the trucks.


The engines hold up to 1,000 gallons of water, which is typically enough to tackle most jobs.  There are also two kinds of foam on board.  Type A foam is for ordinary combustibles.  Type B foam is for gas and oil fires.  Up until a few years ago, using foam was a complicate process.  The foam had to be brought to the site in 5 gallon buckets, which had to be lined up on the ground and set up with special tubes to allow the water to flow through at the proper rate to mix the foam and propel it on the flames.  “Everything had to be set up right before we could use it, and we had to make sure there was always enough to put out the entire fire.  You don’t want to get started and then run out,” Warrilow said.  “The new engines are different.”  The Engineer pointed out the control panel on the top of the fire truck, which has levers for water at multiple pressures, as well as for the foam.  “We use water though whenever possible,” he said, citing cost and saying that in most cases water is extremely efficient.

Although they often hook up hoses to the hydrants, most times the water you see in use on a fire come from the large tank inside the truck.  “The water system is all connected,” Warrilow said.  “So if we have to turn on a hydrant it can affect the flow of water to the homes around the city.  We avoid that whenever possible, especially since the trucks hold more than enough to do the job.  …Hooking up to the hydrant is just for backup.”

Filling the truck back up with water is the first task drivers have when returning to the station after a call.  “You never know when that next call is going to come in,” he said.


All that water would be useless if it weren’t for the many, many feet of hose the firefighters have.  There are multiple lengths and diameters to choose from, depending on the amount of flow needed and the distance involved.  Yellow hoses carry water from the hydrant to the truck.  Gray ones get it from the truck to its destination.  There are also 1,000 foot blue “pre-connect” hoses folded up on each side of the truck, folded into tall narrow compartments with care.  Folding the hoses so that one section balloons forward is known as giving the hose “ears.”  That’s where the firefighters grab and pull the hose from to release it in a hurry.  These pre-connect hoses are what the fighters grab while others work on hooking up other hoses to the hydrant.

There is a compartment full of nozzles and attachments, including specialty ones to connect to in-house fire systems like those in apartment or tall office buildings.  High Rise Packs can be used in buildings like 415 Withington, Credit Union One or Autumn House.  They allow firefighters to connect directly to established emergency water supplies on all the levels of the building.


Ladders help the rescue workers get where they need to go.  Each truck has ladders of varying lengths and types, including one with curved hooks on the top designed to hook onto a roof.


Effective firefighting would not be possible without the use of tools to gain access to buildings, to open up vent holes, and to remove objects in the way.  Pike Poles have a curved metal head on top of a handle that can vary in length from 3feet to 16 feet.  “This is good for everything,” Warrilow said.  “We can use it to pry things, to make holes, for getting to objects out of our reach.”

The Halligan bar is a staple in fire rescue.  According to Wikipedia “The Halligan is a multipurpose tool for prying, twisting, punching, or striking. It consists of a claw (or fork), a blade (wedge or adze), and a tapered pick, which is especially useful in quickly breaching many types of locked doors. Either the adze end or fork end of the tool can be used to break through the latch of a swinging door by forcing the tool between the door and door jamb and prying the two apart, striking it with another Halligan, a Denver tool, a sledgehammer or a flat-head axe. The pick can be placed into the shackle (or eye) of a padlock or hasp and twisted or pried to break it free. It can also be driven into a roof to provide a foothold for firefighters engaged in vertical ventilation. Using a K-tool and the adze end, a lock cylinder can easily be pulled. The fork end is routinely used to shut off gas meter valves. There are many other uses of the Halligan tool, including vehicle extrication and opening of walls.” (

The Ferndale Fire Department also uses chain saws and circular saws to gain access to buildings or vehicles, or to create ventilation holes.  Bolt cutters and sledge hammers can also help.


Being able to see and to breathe are essentials for any rescue worker.  In the past firefighters placed fans in windows of burning or smoldering homes, to draw the bad air outside.  Now there are Positive Pressure Ventilation systems which more effectively push the air out.  A large motorized fan is placed facing into the home, typically in a doorway.  When turned on it pumps high pressure air into the building, forcing the smoke to seek any place to escape.  It also provides firefighters with a pocket of clear air.  “People don’t realize how dark it is in a smoky building,” Warrilow said.  “You literally can’t see your hand in front of your face.  Anything we can do to get the smoke out and increase visibility makes a huge difference.”


Firefighters often cut electricity to homes when they arrive.  This prevents the wires from getting melted and creating a secondary problem of possible electrocution.  Each engine has a long-handled Hot Stick which can be used to cut the Drip Loops that most houses have where the main electrical wire comes into the home.  The loops are secured so that if they are cut the wire itself will not come loose and snap back to the ground.  Workers must wear thick rubber gloves to use the Hot Stick, and they are already protected from electrical current by wearing thick rubber boots.  Gas is also often turned off, using an emergency function on the gas meter.

The engines have generators, and sets of halogen lights they can use indoors or out to light up a scene after the power has been turned off.


The uniforms worn by firefighters give them many safety features.  Reflective fabric makes them easy to spot at night or in smoky situations.  Their helmets protect their head and their suits are make of thick, protective material.  Thick rubber boots protect their feet and keep them dry, and they can use goggles or a face shield to protect their eyes.  They also wear thick gloves and an air tank, known as a SCBA – Self Contained Breathing Apparatus.


Back at the station, trucks are service and equipment undergo regular testing.   So when the firefighters aren’t working they are usually busy with training, maintenance or testing.  They work in 24 hour shifts, fitting in time to work out or rest in the dorms when they can.  Their work-week is ever changing with a rotation of 24 hours on, 24 hours off, 24 hours on, and 72 hours off.  Warrilow said they average 7 runs a day, most of which are medical calls and false alarms.


Only at the Livernois location is there a pole for the firefighters to slide down from their dorm to the main floor.  They are no longer used in fire stations due to safety regulations, but the one on Livernois is grandfathered in.


Improvements in technology have also made for more efficient fire fighting.  Fire Chief Kevin Sullivan and Fire Marshall Brian Batten say they hope to have i pads in each engine so that responders can have instant access to information about buildings they are trying to save.  It also allows them to file reports on scene, which can be easily shared with others in the department, or hospitals, which may need to know what happened.

“The more we can streamline our processes, the more we can concentrate on saving lives or doing the other things like maintenance or fire safety education,” Sullivan said.  “Or even to get their rest.

Another interesting bit of technology is that the Oakland County Sheriff’s helicopter is equipped with infrared cameras used to locate buildings that may be hiding marijuana grow operations. In cases where the source of a fire is not known, the helicopter can also fly over and let the Department know where the hottest point in the building is.

Cooperation with law enforcement agencies, other fire departments, and the public helps the Ferndale Fire Department save lives and property.  The department also serves Pleasant Ridge and Royal Oak Township, giving them firefighting services and also emergency medical.  They also help out in Hazel Park, Madison Heights and Royal Oak if they are needed.

Those who are interested in Fire Department History can pick up a copy of Tough as Nails: A History of the Ferndale Fire Dept. by Chief Roger Schmidt, which is available for purchase at the Ferndale Historical Society at 1651 Livernois.  It is a comprehensive history complete with stories from every fire up until 2003, and plenty of interesting profiles and pictures.  For more recent Fire Department stories, check out The Ferndale 115 News Police and Fire Section.

Check out the Ferndale Fire Department working alongside Hazel Park, Madison Heights, and Royal Oak in the 2009 Bridge collapse of 9 Mile over 1-75 following a tanker truck accident in the video following this article.

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