Public safety pros—firefighters, paramedics, search and rescue, and the profession I’m most familiar with, police officers—need to carry a good knife with them at all times. Search and rescue pros have always appreciated the need for a knife, preferring, according to Ralph Holzhaus, President of The Wilderness and a former S&R team leader, folders that open and close one-handed and have lanyards, because of all the rope work they do. However, when I started writing about law enforcement knives back in the early 90s, it wasn’t the case that most cops carried a good folder with them. Now almost all do, but often the knives they choose aren’t the best quality or even very well suited to LE work. Firefighters and paramedics, though, are still almost virgin territory for good knives, in that many of these folks believe that their ever-present shears will serve them best should anything need cutting. That’s not entirely true, and even discounting the fact that I’m a “knife guy,” I’d still want a good 3- to 4-inch folder with me if those were my professions, for the almost certain occasion during which nothing else will do.
Naturally, some knives are better for public safety applications than others. There are essentially two types of knives that are best suited for public safety work: general-purpose utility knives and rescue knives. Here we’ll take a look at a new entry in each category.
The “Cold Steel American Lawman” is a stout, strong, all-purpose general utility knife, incorporating a new locking system, in a compact package. Remember Franco Colombo—the contemporary of Arnold (yes, that Arnold, the man now addressed as “Governor”)? Franco (now Dr. Colombo) was 5 foot, 6 inches and 180 pounds, but he could bench 525 pounds, dead lift 750 and won Mr. Olympia twice. This knife reminds me of him. It’s not large—the blade is 3.5 inches and the handle width is ½-inch, and even its weight—5.4 ounces, isn’t a lot, but it has the unmistakable feel of strength to it. Maybe it’s the extremely secure lock-up provided by Andrew Demko’s “Tri-Ad” lock. The Tri-Ad locking system incorporates a stop pin that couples with a modified lock-back mechanism. Cold Steel describes the result better than I can:
The stop pin receives all positive pressure (pressure on the cutting edge) and transfers it into the handle frame and liners where it can be more effectively absorbed. Negative pressures on the lock produced, for example, by prying, digging, piercing or even abusive spine whacks are redistributed because the stop pin receives the forward pressure from the rocker and transfers it into the liners protecting the rocker and its pivot from failing.
The chamfer on the male rocker protrusion that mates to the notch in the tang for lock-up, coupled with the planned material wear-in design, produces a superior, super-strong lock.
Strong lock-up is essential in a public safety knife because it will—eventually, but for sure—be used for prying, digging and other lock-stressing jobs. A versatile blade is also essential for a public safety knife because there is no one task that you can predict it will have to perform. A cop or firefighter or S&R volunteer might have to cut away the metal skin of a plane or the polymer exterior of a boat, they might have to pry out a lock, scrape evidence from a tree, or cut a victim out of their restraining belts, or clear vegetation from a disaster scene, or…well, do just about anything. That’s why simplicity (which equals versatility) and strength are so important. The simple spear-shaped blade of the Lawman is perfect for this potential palette of possibilities. It’s long enough to be effective, it’s a little on the wide side—making the effective size of the knife bigger, and interestingly, it’s hollow ground. The steel is AUS 8A, the liners are heat-treated steel, the scales are aggressively textured G-10 and the finger grooves are perfectly suited for control and purchase, even in a reverse grip, and even when chocked-up on. Finally, the Lawman comes with two pocket clips and a bi-lateral opening stud, providing true ambidextrous capability. The Lawman lists for $114.
The fact that most good knives will do it right out of the box these days doesn’t diminish the accomplishment—the Lawman easily sliced little thin slices of free-hanging paper. Giving the virgin blade a re-hone to a little coarser edge on gray ceramic rods, which I prefer for general utility work, the Lawman bit through half of a ¾-inch manila rope on the first pass, which is extremely good performance for a blade this long. With a half-hearted thrust, it penetrated tightly stacked cardboard up to ½-inch from the back of the edge. It sliced carpet, webbing, manila rope, soft pine and hard red oak with “A” performances.
Buck Bravo Rescue
The “Buck Bravo Rescue” is Buck’s newest entry into the rescue knife category. Rescue knives include, in addition to a blade, some sort of window breaking tool and a web/clothing slicer that doesn’t put a live blade next to the skin of a victim while it’s in use. Every public safety pro, in my opinion, needs these capabilities with them at all times, either as a separate tool carried in addition to their knife, or incorporated into the knife itself. The Bravo Rescue takes the approach of incorporating the breaker and slicer into a 154CM spacer at the butt end of the folder. The single-edge ground, tanto-shaped blade of 420HC is 3.5 inches long and features a Besh-Wedge grind to the tanto point. Its construction is open-back, dual-stud opening and liner locking. The body is stainless with Santoprene rubber scales. There’s no pocket clip and the Bravo Rescue comes with a heavy duty black nylon pouch that can be mounted either horizontally or vertically on a belt. At 7 ounces, the knife is hefty. With its handle’s 11/16-inch width and slightly tacky Santoprene scales, this isn’t a pocket-carry knife. This knife feels like a little Mack truck in the hand and more like the specialized tool that it is than it feels like a normal knife. There’s no mistaking the jobs that this knife/tool was intended for. Buck’s Bravo will set you back $100.
The Bravo Rescue likewise sliced free-hanging paper with ease. After a re-hone on gray ceramic rods (20 passes), and on ¾-inch manila rope, it turned in an outstanding performance, slicing 7/8 of the way through on the first pass. Its lack of a gradual sweep to the point, however, made slicing that last little bit a little more tedious than such a sweep would allow. However, the Besh-Wedge lived up to its billing as an extraordinary penetrator, penetrating the tight cardboard stack to the hilt with only a half-hearted thrust. On carpet and manila rope it sliced only a tiny amount less efficiently than the Lawman (probably due to the one-sided grind), and it took chunks of wood off of pine and hard oak slightly more effectively than the Lawman, also probably due to the grind. The web cutter on the butt cleanly and easily sliced through webbing.
To give you an idea of the sharpness scale that I’m talking about when I give out “A and “B” ratings, the Lawman’s edge happened to just barely touch my wrist during one of these tests. Yet that hardly noticeable contact gave me a cut that required a band-aid to clot. Imagine using these knives with actual intent!
The American Lawman and the Bravo Rescue are two new tools for the men and women in our public safety professions. Each takes a different approach to the task, each approach is legitimate and necessary, and each has its proponents. I don’t personally care which approach you take if you’re on the job, but I do believe that every cop, firefighter, EMT/paramedic and search and rescue professional needs a good knife and a good rescue tool at all times. Either of these two new entrants into the market will serve you well, and both are now on my recommended list.