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Tool Hero - Ken Carpenter, Firefighter Mechanic

By Jude Herr

Unlike buying a Dodge off the lot, purchasing a Fire Engine requires a committee designated to the design process because each truck is hand built to specifications. The committee designs the truck around what equipment will be placed on the truck.

The Fire Truck Committee needs to know what the truck is utilized for, ie: a rescue truck, engine pumper, ladder truck, wildland truck, where the tools should be placed to be effective and efficient, the right size pumps, what types of gauges are needed and where the gauges need to be placed. It requires working with the manufacturers throughout the entire process to see it through. The design of the fire truck needs to be made to meet the specific needs of that fire department.

Ken Carpenter, Fire Engineer, in Boulder Colorado, works with the folks at Sutphen Fire Trucks, Pierce and other fire truck manufacturers to design the trucks for Rocky Mountain Fire. Through years of experience working on the engines as a mechanic with the City of Boulder, Ken knows what it takes to design a good fire engine. "By engine, I don't just mean the motor itself" says Ken. The Fire Engine consists of pumps to spray water, gauges to run the pumps, different nozzles and adapters to attach hoses, tools for breaking apart cars to save people who've been in accidents and breaking into burning houses to put out the fire. All of these are organized in such a manner so that they are quickly accessible because to a firefighter, time is not money, it is someone's life.

"The most satisfying aspect of my job is helping people, says Ken. I like to take what is out of control and help get it back into control." Ken began his fire career as a volunteer in January of 1995. At the time, he was employed as a mechanic for the City of Boulder . He enjoyed his volunteer work so much that in August of 1999, he was hired on as a full-time firefighter. He quickly was promoted to Engineer and is currently in charge of maintaining the fire trucks. With 15 engines, that is no small job.

Ken has always been mechanically inclined. He took apart his bicycles as a kid. He then moved on to taking apart cars and motorcycles. His process now originates in his head, with mechanical ideas. He then moves onto paper and working with the manufacturer, implements the designs to work on the Fire Engines. This process is what he likes most about his job.

The most challenging part of Ken's job is keeping up with all the younger guys. At 45 years young, he is considered one of the older firefighters. It requires high physical stamina to fight a fire. While in a fire, firefighters work at their peak Level of performance, under high stress for many hours. Good physical and mental health is essential to deal with the stress because you often get a call in the middle of the night, taking you from sleeping to emergency mode in 60 seconds. This makes firefighting one of the top five most stressful jobs. In addition to being one of the top ten most dangerous jobs, it puts firefighters at a high risk for heart attack.

The most frustrating part of Ken's job is dealing with the public who are not involved in the accident and who don't move out of the way for the fire truck to get through. Personal vehicles are now manufactured with improved sound sealing which, in addition to people talking on cell phones, listening to loud stereos and/or their kids, they don't notice that you are running "emergent" and they simply keep driving.

Fire tools are basically used to rescue people who have been in an accident. Just ask Tools of the Trade Editor, Rick Schwolsky what that is like.

Ken's favorite tool is the Fire Truck itself but here is a list to show you just what's on it:

1. Jaws of Life - Hydraulic Spreader by Hurst - this is used to pry doors off of a vehicle that has been crushed in an accident - to extricate victims.

2. Hydraulic Ram - used to take off the steering wheel or floor of a vehicle

3. Hydraulic Cutters - used to cut the frame of a car or remove the roof.

4. Stihl Utility Chain Saw

5. Stihl Gas-powered Circular saw

6. Stihl Gas-powered Rescue Saw for cutting through roofs.

7. Various Axes, Pike poles and prying and Cutting Tools - Ken's idea was to put it on a swing out rack

8. SCBA's - Self contained breathing apparatus

9. Nozzles, adaptors - tools to spray large amounts of water

10. Pump - 1500 gpm 'Waterous' from St. Paul, Minnesota

11. Intake pump to get water from ponds

12. Ice and Water rescue equipment including climbing helmets and a boogie board for water rescue.

13. Station tools include battery operated Makita drills, Craftsman air compressor and various hand tools.

and of course: Ladders

Jude Herr is the editor for, a Tool Blog which provides information, news and reviews about power tools for the professional tool user and craftsperson. Visit where they leverage their buying power to offer you the best prices on professional power tools and accessories.


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