August 17, 2010 in Idaho

Pulaski’s legacy alive in standard fire tool

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Christopher Anderson photo

The famous Pulaski tool combines a cutting axe blade on one side and a trenching tool on the other end to combine two effective firefighting tools into one easy to carry tool. The tool was designed by Forest Ranger Ed Pulaski but he never got a patent for the tool nor did he recieve any compensation for his invention from the US Forest Service. The 1910 fire brought fame to Pulaski for saving his firefighting crew by guiding them to a mine tunnel as the forest fire overtook them and cut off all escape.
(Full-size photo)

Every soot-smudged wildland firefighter knows the name pulaski – even if they don’t know the man Pulaski.

That’s because Ed Pulaski cemented his legacy when he welded the head of a mattock (or grubbing hoe) onto an axe head.

It turned out to be the ideal tool for hacking a fire break in the woods. One side could chop a tree; the other side could scrape and dig. To this day, the Forest Service issues them to most wildfire crews.

Pulaski, still recovering from his 1910 ordeal, first created the tool in his own blacksmith shop in 1911 and perfected it over the next several years. Similar tools had been in use before for clearing land, but not for firefighting. This new tool was christened the pulaski right from the beginning. Pulaski’s version was the prototype for the tool that the Forest Service, by 1920, was issuing to thousands of firefighters.

The original pulaski tool is housed reverently in a glass case at the Wallace District Mining Museum. You can see the weld line where he attached the mattock head to the axe head. You can see the initials “EP” stamped into the side, signifying Big Ed’s authorship.

Pulaski thought about patenting his invention, but never did. He probably never made a dime off it.

Yet it was this tool, even more than his 1910 heroism, that keeps his name alive today. Now, you can buy updated lightweight or super-sized versions — but they’re still called pulaskis.


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