Multipurpose Tool Makes Advancing Hose Easier

By Raul A. Angulo

Ever hear, “Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight”? What does this have to do with firefighting? Well, what do we fight? Fi re. What are our weapons? Fire hose. We can choose 1¾- or 2½-inch hoselines. Some fire departments use two-inch hose, and that’s a nice manageable in-between. But the weapon of choice is usually the 1¾-inch handline, primarily because it’s easiest to handle. Let’s face it-pulling a 2½-inch is labor-intensive. When I was in drill school in 1980, we hated the 2½-inch line evolutions. Back then we used 100-foot sections of double-jacketed cotton hose. When it was soaked, it was heavy! Not to mention that the 2½-inch nozzle was an all-chromed Wooster nozzle. Shoulder loading a wet section of 2½-inch line off the ground was brutal, which translates into heavy! And, that was uncharged. Today we use 100-foot sections of 100 percent polyester-woven synthetic hose with lightweight nozzles. Uncharged, the hose is considerably lighter, but charged it’s still heavy and hard to advance.

Shown here is Clint Bowring's original sketch

Shown here is Clint Bowring’s original sketch
of the tool that would eventually bear his
name. The large hose cradle (hook) only
accommodated 2½-inch hose. Features
included a door wedge, sprinkler wedge, figure
eight, gas shutoff, spanner wrench, carabiner
hole, and ring (handle). [Photos by Clint
Bowring.]

 

Changing Fire Loads

Fire departments were already figuring out what National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) tests later confirmed: that synthetic modern fuel loads vs. the legacy fuel loads in residential homes were producing faster growing and bigger fires. Flashover times in room fires with legacy fuels are approximately 29 minutes after ignition. Modern fuels are producing room fire flashovers in approximately four minutes. We needed more water and additional handlines to extinguish routine house fires. The transition from 1½- to 1¾-inch fire hose as the new standard attack hose also ushered in new 1½-inch nozzles capable of flowing 200 to 225 gallons per minute (gpm)-a substantial increase from the standard 100-gpm nozzles. More gpm using a 1¾-inch hose meant you could put out more fire than the 1½-inch line could, yet the 1¾-inch line handled much like a 1½-inch hoseline. One firefighter could handle it. That industry adjustment put us ahead of the curve and gave us the advantage again.

the first Bowring prototype.

This is the first Bowring prototype. Holes and
slots were made to reduce the weight of the
tool. The large hose cradle handled the
2½-inch hose. The small cradle was simply a
spanner wrench.

 

The next fire problem that started creeping in all over the country was big box superstores. Simply put, our society created bigger spaces to pack modern fuel fire loads. The modern fuel fire loads were also increasing in high-rise buildings. Computer and telecommunication terminals with all the cable and support accessories are really plastic storage facilities disguised as business offices.

Our response to commercial fires was a bit miscalculated. The 1¾-inch interior attack line was working so well, we continued to fight commercial fires the same way we were fighting residential fires. You can put out a lot of fire with 200 gpm but not as much as with 300 gpm. The numbers are derived from fire flow requirement formulas. There are two. The National Fire Academy formula is Length x Width ÷ 3 = gpm. The Royer/Nelson formula is Length x Width x Height ÷ 100 = gpm. These calculations can be made during preincident planning or on the fireground-if you keep your cool. They are both generous estimates in determining the gpm you will need to extinguish the fire. For the company officer and the nozzle firefighter, it really comes down to a 50/50 decision-to pull the 1¾- or the 2½-inch handline. Pulling a 2½-inch line to extinguish a 1¾-inch house fire is overkill. It may be difficult to maneuver on the inside, but you’re not going to get yourself into trouble. On the other hand, if you pull a 1¾-inch line with a nozzle that flows 125 gpm when you need in excess of 300 gpm, you just brought a knife to a gunfight. This fire has outgunned you, and you will not be able to put it out!

Again, the fire service recognized the dangerous trend that firefighters were battling commercial fires with the same strategy, tactics, and mindset they’d utilized in residential fires. Remember that a commercial fire is not a residential fire. Big fire, big water. When you are responding to a confirmed commercial fire, you have got to be thinking 2½-inch hoselines. Hence, there has been a new training emphasis placed on learning to manage, maneuver, and operate a 2½-inch hoseline more effectively. Many new techniques have been developed. But the bottom line is that a 2½-inch line is still heavy and still labor-intensive.

The Bowring

The Bowring has 1½- and 2½-inch pin lug
spanner holes for female swivels and caps,
holes and slots for carabiners, oxygen, gas and
water shutoffs, spanner, and Storz wrench.
The hose cradles and hooks handle one- to
three-inch-diameter hose. The large hook has a
tapered edge to cut car windshields and
drywall. The tip is notched so the hook can
drag a down firefighter or be used as a
mattress hook or ladder anchor.

 

The Bowring

The Oklahoma City (OK) Fire Department was in the forefront of addressing the fire flow requirements for high-rise buildings and realized it had to adjust its high-rise policy to incorporate and increase the deployment of 2½-inch handlines. Major Tony Mack conducted a series of train-the-trainer drills. The evolution involved a lot of humping charged 2½-inch hose the old-fashioned way. By the end of the day, participants were all pretty sore and worn out. While sitting around the kitchen table at Station 1, Mack threw out the challenge to his staff, “There’s got to be a better way to advance a charged 2½-inch hoseline up the stairs and around corners without wearing you out. Because after you get the line in place, you still have to fight the fire.” Once the hoseline becomes wet, along with your gloves, the 2½-inch line becomes harder to advance. Your gloves start to slip along the hose and, after repetitive pulls, your forearms wear out and you lose your grip strength.

Clint Bowring was one of the firefighters at that table. At the time, he only had two years on the job. He took that challenge seriously and gave it some detailed thought. He knew that any solution would have to easily attach and slide along a charged 2½-inch line to advance it, and it would also have to improve grip strength. He started to sketch the design on a piece of paper and brought it in the following shift to show his new concept to his crew. After additional input, he went home and worked on his new design.

Bowring learned to weld and work with metal at an early age thanks to his grandfather and father, who taught him the craft of metal work. He knew he had to use steel for strength, but it had to be the right thickness. It also needed to be balanced. He found a scrap piece of 3⁄8-inch steel and decided that would do the trick.

The Bowring

The Bowring is primarily a 2½-inch hose handling tool but also works on
1¾-inch hoselines. It reduces the number of firefighters required to
advance charged 2½-inch hose up stairs and around corners. Using the
Bowring, one firefighter has more ergonomic leverage and strength to
advance a charged 2½-inch line.

 

It’s important to mention here that Mack constantly hammered into his crews the need to develop a philosophy of preparedness. He coined the phrase, which they all can recite: “I stay ready to keep from having to get ready.” In response to that challenge, Bowring and the rest of the crew at Station 1 would frequently rappel down from the third story of the fire station, using all the appropriate safety gear, to keep their bailout skills sharp. In fact, Bowring incorporated a personal mini figure eight descender into his harness.

As the new tool started taking shape, he immediately noticed it resembled a figure eight and speculated that it could also be used as an emergency rappelling device. These would be the tool’s two major functions. He drilled a series of random holes and slots in the tool to reduce weight, but one slot was specifically designed as a gas shut off and another was specifically designed to accept a rescue carabiner. The original tool was also designed to be used as a door wedge, a sprinkler wedge, and a spanner wrench. Within eight hours, the first Bowring prototype was ready to be field-tested.

Bowring was anxious to show Mack his new design, but he also knew Mack would be his strongest critic. He was also ready for the thumbs up or thumbs down from the crew. Since he wanted his tool to be the ultimate multipurpose firefighting tool, he wasn’t going to take the criticism personally and remained open-minded to their input. The first thing they discovered was that it did work as a figure eight emergency descender for bailout evolutions. It takes some practice to wrap the rope around the tool but, like a figure eight, it allows for a smooth controlled descent. Depending on the angle of the rope, you can rappel quickly or slowly. You can also take an extra wrap around the tool to lock the rope in place for a hands-free position.

The Bowring

Pistol grip nozzles are great but they are right next to the nozzle discharge
and the end of the hose, which has the greatest kickback force from nozzle
reaction. It is still difficult for one firefighter to hold onto without becoming
fatigued. By slapping a Bowring onto the hose and tilting it forward 45
degrees, the tool locks on to the hose, giving the firefighter an extra handle
right where he needs it. The Bowring allows the firefighter to operate
farther away from the tip to better manage and absorb the nozzle reaction
while still controlling the nozzle.

 

The crew accomplished advancing a charged 2½-inch hose up stairs and around corners with considerable ease compared with before. The 2½-inch hose cradle (hook) is slapped around the charged hoseline, and the ring provides a handle for the gloved hand. At 90 degrees when the tool is perpendicular to the hose, it freely slides along the hoseline. When initiating a pulling motion, the tool is angled approximately 45 degrees, taking a bite on the hose. The tool is locked in place with the friction created and will pull the hose one arm length at a time. When the tension is released, the tool will slide back down the hose until the firefighter starts to pull. Once a rhythm is developed, advancing the hose becomes a faster operation with minimal effort.

Back To the Drawing Board

The overall reaction to the tool was very favorable. Bowring did solve the problem of fatigue associated with advancing a charged 2½-inch line with wet gloves but also received some very valuable feedback. For example, the prototype only worked with 2½-inch line. Why not widen the curve on the opposite side of the tool to accommodate 1¾-inch hose too? And if you’re going to put holes in the tool to reduce the weight, why not make the holes and the slots with specific applications to problems encountered on the fireground? And, will the spanner wrench work with Storz couplings?

Rather than feeling discouraged, he was encouraged. Bowring went back to work on the tool to incorporate their suggestions, but this time he decided to use professional mechanical engineers. The results were disappointing. There were many specific angles, tapers, and radiuses that needed to be just right. Part of the problem was that the civilian engineers and machinists weren’t firefighters and couldn’t grasp the numerous intended applications. The following prototypes never worked as well as Bowring’s original. After going to four different engineering firms without success, Bowring decided to invest in mechanical design computer software and do the work himself. In one shot, his second personal prototype was spot on. This is the tool that exists today.

The Bowring

The Bowring is a personal tool so everyone on the hose team can use one.
Notice that the ring of the tool easily accommodates a gloved hand and
allows the firefighter to clench his fist. This maximizes hand grip strength
with the least amount of fatigue. The backup firefighter can support the
weight of the hose and manage the kickback with one hand. Using a
Bowring allows this position to focus on the fire and the safety of the team
instead of wrestling the 2½-inch hose. It also saves resources. Without the
Bowring, it would take at least three firefighters to effectively operate this
2½-inch hose for an extended period of time.

 

The Bowring Specs and Features

The Bowring is made with 17-4 military-grade steel. It measures 8.3 inches tall, 5.9 inches wide, and 0.375 inches thick. It weighs 22 ounces and is a single piece of steel with no welds. There’s a pin lug spanner hole for 1½-inch caps, a pin lug spanner hole for 2½-inch caps, and a hole that works as an oxygen valve wrench. A notch on the exterior spine is an in-ground water valve shutoff key. There’s a slot in the center for a gas shutoff, which also widens and acts as a cheater bar for opening standpipe valves that are missing hand wheels. It also accepts a rescue carabiner when the tool is used as a figure eight emergency rappelling device.

The smaller cradle (small hook) accommodates one-, 1½-, and 1¾-inch hose and is used for managing and advancing these charged hoselines. The tip is tapered for a 1½-inch spanner wrench. The larger cradle (large hook) accommodates two-, 2½-, and three-inch hose and also serves for managing and advancing these charged hoselines. The large cradle has a Storz notch at the tip, which is also a 2½-inch rocker-lugged spanner, and a Storz wrench for large-diameter hose.

The hose advancing technique is still the same. The respective cradles are forcefully snapped on to the charged hoseline as if you’re swinging a hammer or a hatchet. When the tool is perpendicular to the hose, it freely slides along the hoseline. When the tool is tilted 45 degrees in the direction you wish to advance the hose, friction is created, locking the tool in place. The large ring in the middle of the tool serves as the handle. Because you’re now gripping the tool (and the hose) with a closed fist, you maximize your hand grip strength to manage and advance the hoseline. Releasing the tension allows the tool to freely slide along the hose to the next arm length. Then the action is repeated until a rhythm is developed. Leaving the tools locked in place, they serve as a handles so backup firefighters can lean into the operating hoseline to relieve the nozzle position from nozzle reaction.

The Bowring

Successful standpipe operations are critical for high-rise fires. A missing
hand wheel on the valve can jam up the fire attack team. A Bowring can
save the day by becoming the hand wheel. This slot is also a gas shutoff
and accepts a rescue carabiner for a figure eight.

 

A Multipurpose Hook

The tool was primarily designed to advance and manage charged 2½-inch hose, but the large cradle is obviously a hook and the large ring, which easily accommodates a gloved hand, is obviously a handle. That makes it a functional handheld hook, and a serious forcible entry tool with 22 ounces of weight behind it. The tool can be used break windows, create a purchase point, and wedge a door. Because the interior spine is tapered, the tip can be crashed through a windshield and function as a rescue saw to remove the windshield during auto extrication. This can be very valuable technique for first responders waiting for the rescue unit to arrive with hydraulic rescue tools.

The hook can crash and saw through drywall to create a hole or a channel to check for fire extension in the walls during overhaul. It’s also a mattress hook for bed fires. Removing a burned mattress and springs has always been an unwieldy maneuver because there is no place to grab it. This tool makes it fast and easy. The hook can also be used as a ladder anchor or for securing a hoseline to the rungs of a ground ladder.

For rapid intervention techniques, the hook easily attaches to a self-contained breathing apparatus harness and the handle makes it easy for a rescuer to drag out a down firefighter. The tool has also been incorporated into the Nance and Denver drills to give rescuers advantageous hand positions and grip strength. Although the tool design is complete, its uses and applications are limited only by the imagination.

Naming the Tool

Bowring was extremely pleased with the end product. The crew was finding new applications for it every day. The acceptance of the tool was more than he could have hoped for. Again, they were sitting around the fire station kitchen table trying to come up with a catchy name. Bowring wanted to name it after Mack, since he was the one who gave him the idea in the first place. But one the guys cried foul since Bobby Darin already named a knife after him. Another crew member chimed in that the tradition in the fire service was to name a tool after the inventor-for example, Hugh Halligan, Ed Pulaski, and the Miller and Bresnan nozzle-so it only seemed right that Bowring add his name to the tool. After all, it had a big ring, and the name sounds like a tool, so they decided to call it the Bowring.

Mack encouraged Bowring to market and distribute the Bowring. That was easier said than done. By happenstance at the Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC) one year, they showed the Bowring to Paul Conway of Paul Conway Shields & Equipment. He immediately recognized the innovative value of this tool and offered an exclusive marketing and distribution partnership with Bowring. That’s how I discovered the tool-at FDIC.

I own two Bowrings. I have to be honest, 22 ounces is a little heavy to carry in addition to all the other things I like to carry in my bunker gear pockets. That is the only drawback. I would suggest testing a series made of lightweight titanium; however, to use the tool to open walls and remove windshields, the Bowring needs to have some weight behind it. As a truck captain, I found that the Bowring does not replace the proper tools designed for truck company operations, so I don’t carry one. However, when I am detailed to or work extra shifts on an engine company, I pack one Bowring in my bunker pants cargo pocket and carry the second one on the rig. It is an invaluable tool for members assigned to an engine company.

RAUL A. ANGULO, a veteran of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department and captain of Ladder Company 6, has more than 35 years in the fire service. He is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. He lectures on fire service leadership, company officer development, and fireground strategy and accountability throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

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