I worked one summer on a blue card fire crew, one of the best jobs ever. A ten-person crew can clear a trail five feet wide down to mineral soil almost as fast as you can walk it. The tools we used were so useful that I’m surprised at how rarely I see them in people’s sheds. Here is a round up of the tools we used and why they are so great.
Stihl Chain Saw
A Stihl 76cc chainsaw with a 28 inch bar and a full skip chain handles limbs, trunks and logs up to 50 inches diameter or thereabouts. Michael Smith shares a firefighter’s perspective on chainsaws, noting that Husky is equally popular to the Stihl out on the fireline, but mainly because parts for both brands are likely to be stocked and readily available. Available at Stihl USA
Hand crew sawyers are followed by two or three workers with brush hooks. The razor sharp curved blade can be used to pull branches and chop them. The curve of the blade makes it less likely to glance to the side or fall short on a stroke than a traditional axe when you’re clearing brush and shrubs. Wranglestar has a Youtube video explaining more about brush axes. Available on Amazon.
A Pulaski is a hybrid axe and digging mattock – and next the chainsaw one of the most dangerous tools on the fire line. The point of the Pulaski is to dig up shallow roots and chop them so that a fire won’t cross the line underground (yes it happens). Check out the US Forest Service instructions for improving your Grubbing Technique. Available at Amazon.
Just about everybody has a shovel of some kind. I always liked the Razorback because the tempered steel blade keeps a sharp edge all day long. The function of the shovel on a fire line is to cut turf and sweep it off the trail. The technique is to grasp the neck or socket of the shovel with your dominant hand, brace that arm against your knee which acts as a fulcrum. You use your other hand to pull back on the shovel’s handle like a lever which moves the blade across the ground with quite a bit of force. Razorback shovels are available on Amazon.
Last but not least is the Mcleod (pronounced “McCloud”) which is a hoe with an attitude. The purpose of the Mcleod is to clear the trail down to mineral soil with no clumps of organic matter in the mix. This is done primarily with the hoe blade but sometimes you come across sticks and debris and you simply turn the tool 180 and you’ve got a heavy duty rake. This thing isn’t for raking leaves but it’s dandy for chopping up a garden patch that’s gone fallow. Available through Amazon.