See also the article, Resistance to Change: Betrayal?, for some insight that may help dealing with this sometimes rather touchy issue.
Why an axe manual in the first place?
Firefighter honor guard units use two of their tools as ceremonial equipment that are normally used to fight fires. When I first began writing my book, The Honor Guard Manual, I wanted it to be as comprehensive as possible and thought that I should include law enforcement and firefighters. Law enforcement units use rifles the same as that military honor guard units. They also use shotguns sometimes. But firefighters- hold the phone!
The conversation I had with myself when something like this: “What in the world? Let me zoom in on that picture of the firefighter color team. Hey, they’re holding shiny axes! And what are those staffs with point and a little hook?” Time to visit a fire station and get some hands-on training. I went to the Spangdahlem Air Base (my wife was stationed there- I had already retired but was an active member of the Base Honor Guard, probably the only retiree to do that) fire station and was given a tour and explanation of the ax and pike pole and the loan of a real fire ax. The Airmen there were great and I so appreciated the time they took with me, from the Senior Master Sgt to the Senior Airman, they could not have been more pleased to have someone take an interest in the tools of their trade.
I took the fire ax home and began creating a manual of arms that I hoped would mirror the honor guard manual of arms for the rifle for a color team. I took pictures of myself with a timer on my camera setting it up on the back porch of our home in Germany. I also asked my wife to sit in the middle of our hallway and take many pictures while I posed in several different positions of the developing manual with the fire ax. In steps difficulty at this point.
The issues that I encountered were 1) Safety, there is a pike on the opposite end of the blade (the blade is dull on ceremonial axes, but the pike still comes to a four-sided point) and, 2) Creating a series of “strong” positions.
Safety: Port is the position most teams use when marching and it can make the ax guards wish for interchangeable arms during long parades. To my knowledge at that point (2009) no team had used an ax like a rifle and put it on their shoulder. (I have since found one or two pictures of firefighter color teams with axes on their shoulders- the same way I created, which gave me validation.) I really wanted to use a shoulder position to provide a relatively restful position, especially when using a real fire ax with a heavy head. To do this and to maintain a safe and ceremonial image, I could not put the ax handle on my shoulder with the ax head next to my ear. That position looked “weak” and actually, a little dorky. It also created the problem of moving the pick near my head, about which I was not all that enthused.
Port and Present Arms
“Weakness“: My second concern was positions that may look “weak” or “non-ceremonial” even in transition. When you bring a rifle from Order to Port, the movements are straight forward: you bring the rifle across the torso and then move the right hand to the small of the stock. When trying to mimic this movement for the fire ax, keep in mind that the hand is on top of the ax head and as you bring it across the torso, you must bend the right wrist creating a “weak” movement/position. Or, when at Present Arms and both hands are flared to the front with just the thumbs holding the handle- it does not present a “strong” image.
I have seen firefighters perform several of the positions of an ax manual of arms, positions that I eventually flat rejected for the reasons stated above. I didn’t just play around with an ax for a few minutes and settle on whatever came to mind, the ceremonial manual that I created took weeks of hard work of hands-on time with the ax, bouncing ideas off of my wife and then also firefighter Mark Zamora who played an integral part in the revision of the manual that I first developed with which I was not happy. Mark’s expertise as a firefighter and a member of his department’s honor guard was crucial in the manual positions that are in my book and in the video at the bottom of this article.
Here is the manual that I created which is explained extensively in my book: