About the Author: Hi, I’m Chris and I run things around here. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
Rescue knives can come in incredibly useful when on the fire ground. Most firefighters and first responders will carry a knife on them, especially for tactical rescues. So we’ve done our research to find the best firefighter knife for rescue operations.
Selection Criteria: When selecting a rescue knife, we recommend you choose one that has (at a minimum) a part-serrated edge, LED light, window punch and seatbelt cutter. These four elements will be the core components that you will use on a daily basis.
On top of this, it’s important that the knife can be deployed with ease. You don’t want one that catches or has friction when you open it up.
That’s where brand quality really comes in.
We’ve provided a full outline of our selection criteria for the best firefighter knives at the end of this piece. But for now, I’ll get on with showing you want we selected as the seven best knives for first responders.
The best rescue knives for firefighters are:
- StatGear T3 Tactical Auto Rescue Tool – Best Overall
- Swiss Safe Fire & Rescue Tactical Knife
- Armory Replicas Firefighter Knife – Value for Money
- Victorinox Swiss Army Rescue Tool
- Bartech Pro Custom Engraved Firefighter Knife – Best as a Gift
- Treasure Gurus Firefighter Survival Knife
- The Atomic Bear Folding Knife
Best Rescue Knives for First Responders
1. StatGear T3 Tactical Auto Rescue Tool – Best Overall
The StatGear T3 is a tool designed by paramedics with all the components you’ll expect and want of a personal knife while on a call out.
The main blade has a straight edge for the first inch then serrated edge through to the handle. Use the front straight edge part for push cuts that require precision and a clean cut. Use the serrated part for sawing tasks.
There is also a hardened stainless steel hook blade designed specifically for cutting through seat belts. This of course is one of the most important features of a rescue knife, especially because you’ll likely be attending many car accident call outs.
Something that really stands out about this knife is the window punch. Instead of a regular hammer style mechanism that requires a lot of force, this one’s a spring loaded center punch for breaking glass. Simply push it against the glass and the spring essentially ‘fires’ a sharp point into the window. You can repeat this a few times (wearing your gloves, of course) without much effort to get through either a car window or structural window.
Lastly in the ‘pros’ column is the nylon sheath. A lot of the rescue knives on this list don’t come with sheaths for carrying the knives. But this one has a great sheath with included belt loop so you can keep it on your person and easy to access at all times.
Now for what we don’t like.
We do wish that the button for turning the LED light on and off would be bigger so you can operate it while wearing gloves. Of course, most tasks required of this knife will likely require you to take gloves off. But we think the LED light function at a minimum would be good to do while wearing gloves.
Why this Knife:
- High Quality: A lot of cheaper knives aren’t really the best quality. You can feel the quality on this one. If you want a knife that’ll last, this one’s your guy. It’s not that expensive, anyway.
- Best Auto Rescue Features: The seatbelt cutter and spring loaded window punch are designed specifically for automotive accidents.
- Precision and Power: The pointy end is great for push tasks, while the serrated edge will serve you well for cutting and sawing tasks.
2. Swiss Safe Fire & Rescue Tactical Knife
This knife’s blade is the best part about it. It’s a ling, sharp knife with a serrated back edge so you can do both push and cutting tasks. It also comes with a decent quality seatbelt cutter.
It comes in a really nice gift box, which makes it a good option for a birthday gift for a firefighter. Make sure you also get the one with the fire department symbol on it (not the military or police symbol).
Here’s what we don’t like.
You’ll notice that it doesn’t come with a sheath. So, while the box is nice, once you’ve taken it out of the box, there’s no way to attach it to your turnout gear.
Next up, the glass breaker is not spring loaded like the StatGear T3, meaning you’ll have to use some force to get through a window. We prefer a spring loaded option which is cleaner and more professional.
And of course, it doesn’t come with an LED light which is a little bit of a pain. But you’ll probably have a decent flashlight in your kit (and if you don’t here are our recommendations for firefighter flashlights).
Why this Knife:
- Nice Blade: The blade is large and has both serrated and non-serrated sections.
- Locks in Place: When it’s fully extended it locks itself in place for no-slip.
- Fire Department Ensignia: It’s nice that you can get it with ‘Fire Department’ written on it.
Keep in Mind:
- No LED Light: It’s nice to have a small LED light on a knife – and this one doesn’t have one.
- No Sheath: Where will you keep it? Loose in a pocket, I assume.
- Not our Favorite Window Breaker: We prefer the glass breaker on the StatGear T3.
3. Armory Replicas Firefighter Knife – Value for Money
There’s a lot to like about this knife. The blade has a really sharp tip and an aggressive shape for both push and saw motions. It’s also got the expected seatbelt cutter and window breaker – but again, the window breaker isn’t spring loaded so it will require some brute force to get it working.
But the real drawing card is the great pocket clip so you can clip it to just about any pocket, belt, etc. on your turnout gear.
There’s also an LED flashlight on this knife, but its quality isn’t the greatest. The light is dim and requires some fine motor skills to turn it on and off, so don’t hope to do this with gloves on. We also wish it wasn’t quite as flimsy.
Lastly, of course, is the St Florian Cross “firefighter insignia” on the bottom of the blade, which would make it a great gift for the fireman in your life.
Why this Knife:
- Fire Department Ensignia: It’s nice that you can get it with ‘Fire FIghter’ written on it.
- Sharp Tip: We’re big fans of the sharp tip on the end of this blade.
- Pocket Clip: Easiest to clip to a pocket or belt.
Keep in Mind:
- No Sheath: There isn’t a sheath, but with the pocket clip you probably won’t need it.
- Not the Best LED Light: We don’t like how the LED light turns on.
4. Victorinox Swiss Army Rescue Tool
We love a Swiss Army Knife as much as the next guy. The range of blades is amazing. You’ll also get some features you wouldn’t get from others such as the screwdriver, bottle opener, crate opener and wire stripper.
But we’ve never found a Swiss Army Knife that satisfied us. Theye’re always so fiddly and hard to operate. Why do they make them like this!? So, we’d recommend this one as a backup knife that you might keep in the truck. If you want a quick, on-the-go knife solution, this just isn’t the one you’d want.
We do appreciate, though, that this knife comes in a really great Nylon pouch and the bright color is great (especially for people who tend to lose their supplies – there’s always one guy on the truck who loses stuff everywhere.)
Why this Knife:
- Range of Functions: You get 15 functions on your knife, including a disc saw for shatterproof glass, which we thought was really cool.
- Quality: Swiss Army Knives are famous for their quality.
Keep in Mind:
- Too Hard to Open: We prefer a knife that can be flicked open without too much effort. This one requires too much work to get the tools open.
- No LED Light: You might prefer to go with a knife with an LED light option.
5. Bartech Pro Custom Engraved Firefighter Knife – Best Gift Option
This knife is a really nice gift for a firefighter. You can ask them to engrave the person’s name on it for no added cost, which makes it a really good personalized gift idea. It also has the St Florian Cross (the firefighter emblem) printed on the handle.
It’s also got a few good features aside from the ‘gift’ value. It has the regular push & saw knife, seatbelt cutter and window breaker.
But none of these are outstanding (the quality of the StatGear T3 is superior in our opinion). But they are passable.
The knife doesn’t come with an LED light within it, but … you get a separate flashlight in the same purchase!
Plus, the flashlight is also engraved.
To bring all of this together, there’s a nylon pouch that can be attached to your belt with perfect holders for the knife and flashlight side-by-side.
Why this Knife:
- Great Engraved Gift: It’s perfect for a classy gift for a graduating firefighter or just a firefighter friend on their birthday or Christmas.
- LED Light: The included separate LED light is better than most lights that are built into a pocket knife.
- Nylon Belt Pouch: We love the belt pouch that holds the flashlight and knife in a really neat holder.
Keep in Mind:
- The Quality: It’s not the best knife quality wise – we still prefer the great blade on the StatGear T3.
6. Treasure Gurus Firefighter Survival Knife
This knife has a great look, but only one feature that stands out above the rest: its loop for clipping it to a belt or outfit. The best option here is likely to attach it to a spring-loaded clip (i.e. a Carabiner) so it’s secured to your turnout gear and easy to access
We also like the design of the handle. It’s got a nice sleek red and black color scheme with molded finger grip spaces. Don’t underestimate this. Those molded finger grip slots can really help you when you’re fighting with a rope you’re trying to cut.
And of course, it’s got the St Florian cross – the universally recognizable firefighter insignia.
Aside from those features, its other features are all pretty much regulation. It has quite a short blade with straight edge and serrated edge sections for multiple cutting tasks, a seat belt cutter, and your regular window breaker.
Why this Knife:
- Sleek Design: We love the look of the handle with the red and black color scheme.
- Great Grip: The grip feels really comfortable.
- Firefighter Insignia: We love the St Florian cross insignia on the handle.
Keep in Mind:
- Pocket Clip: It’s gret that they have the loop for adding a pocket clip, but it’s not the best – the loop is quite thin and we’d prefer a regular large clip like on the ‘Armory Replica’ knife above.
7. The Atomic Bear Folding Knife
In many jurisdictions you are not allowed a spring assisted knife. This one gets around that issue but can still be operated on-handed.
The blade very smoothly opens with the use of your thumb.
In fact, we think the knife could even be opened while wearing your gloves – so it can come in really handy while you’re out on the fire ground.
It’s got the regular precision straight edge as well as the serrated edge – as you’d expect with any rescue knife. But, it doesn’t come with a window breaker or seatbelt cutter, which is a bit of a deal breaker for us.
So while this is a really (really) nice knife, and some people would love it, we just don’t think it’s quite versatile enough at this point for a first responder.
Why this Knife:
- One Handed Opening: Open it with your thumb in the one hand.
- No Spring Assist: Some states do not allow you to carry around a spring assist knife. This one’s your choice if you’re in that situation – plus, you can still open it one-handed.
- Great Pocket Clip: The small but very practical clip allows it to sit in your belt or pocket securely, ready for use.
Keep in Mind:
- Lightweight: They promote this as a ‘pro’, but we like the feel of a bit of weight in our hands.
- No Seat belt cutter or Window Breaker: This is a deal breaker for a rescue knife. A pity – because besides this, it’s a beautiful knife.
What to Look for in a Rescue Knife
The best rescue knife should have a serrated and non-serrated section on the blade.
The front half of the blade should not be serrated and should come to a sharp tip. This is the ‘push’ section of the blade for completing push tasks. A push tasks might involve carving or doing precision cuts by applying pressure on the object you are cutting.
The back half should be serrated. This serrated section is for sawing tasks that require greater traction on a surface. Examples might include cutting through a bandage or through wood.
These two cutting tasks serve very distinct purposes for distinct situations. But, you’ll intuitively know when you need to do push cuts and when a more ‘grippy’ saw cut might be required.
The best firefighter knife should also have a window punch. At many call outs (including to structural fires and car accidents), you’ll find you might need to break glass.
This is where a window punch comes in.
Your regular window punch will be a short solid piece of metal that usually extends out the back end of the knife handle. It will come to a shallow tip at the end. The idea of this is to provide a sharp brute force ‘punch’ to glass in order to smash it.
You can also get a spring loaded window punch such as the one on the StatGear T3. This one has a cylindrical cover on it. When you push it against the glass, the cylinder will retreat and trigger the spring-loaded punch to stab out at the glass. The pro of these spring loaded punches is that you don’t need to use brute force to break glass. Simply hold it against the glass and press. In this way you can break the glass more easily and with more precision.
Some knives comes with LED lights. Some don’t.
The LED lights on knives aren’t really all that good. They’re not going to be as high quality as your helmet flashlight, for example. So you might decide that you don’t really need a light.
One thing to keep an eye out for is whether the light points in the direction of the blade. If the light points backward while the knife points forward, then you’re not going to be able to do any cutting in the dark anyway. They won’t work together but only be usable in separation.
A seatbelt cutter is on just about every rescue knife these days. It’s a small blade that is usually inset into the handle. You’re not likely to be able to cut yourself on it because it only works when you insert a thin object inside like paper or … a seatbelt. To operate it, simply place the seatbelt into the seatbelt cutter section and tug – hard. It’ll require a fair bit of force, but it’s also super sharp.
Far too many knives come without a sheath.
So, where are you going to keep it?
Your knife needs to be very easy to access. You should be able to pull it out, use it, and pit it away quickly and with ease.
The logical solution is to attach it to your belt. You could do this with a sheath that has a belt loop. Or, you could get one with a clip. The clip’s a great idea because you could clip your knife to anything – a pocket on your turnout gear, for example.
But you’d probably want to avoid a knife that hasn’t got any logical means for attaching it to your gear.
Custom Engraving and St Florian Cross
If you’re getting the knife as a gift, the custom engraving option is great. That’s the big benefit of the Bartech Pro. You can get it engraved for no extra cost.
Alternatively, we like the idea of a knife that is ‘firefighter themed’, e.g. with the St Florian Cross on it. The St Florian Cross is the cross of the patron saint of firefighters. It’s the emblem that is more or less the emblem for every fire department around the western world – so it’s synonymous with firefighting. We think that would be a great gift idea for a fireman.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Difference Between a Survival Knife and a Tactical Knife?
A survival knife is typically used for practical tasks. Their main purpose is to help you to overcome the challenges you might face while hunting, cooking and doing other everyday survival tasks.
A tactical knife is primarily designed for combat. It will often have a very sharp non-serrated blade for push ‘stabs’ that you might come across in combat. You don’t want a serrated knife if you’re withdrawing the knife from flesh as it could cause snags. A tactical knife may also have a molded grip designed for comfort for push stabs, while a survival knife’s grip will be more versatile for push and pull tasks.
A survival knife would also likely have several additional all-purpose features such as a built-in window punch, LED light, etc. that are there for additional tasks beyond combat.
As you will have guessed, a rescue knife fits much more into the ‘survival’ than ‘tactical’ category – but people use the words so interchangeably these days that the terms don’t really matter at all.
How to Sharpen your Knife
The best way to sharpen a knife is to use a whetstone. You can buy them online for pretty cheap. Run the knife along the wetstone at an angle of about 15°– 20° to sharpen it.
A 15°– 20° sharpening angle will result in a cutting angle closer to 30°– 40°.
Alternatively, you could use a grinding wheel. The main problem with grinding wheels is that they cause a lot of hear buildup. Make sure you have water handy and use it to keep things cool. You don’t want the temperatures to rise too much while using a grinding wheel.
How to Make it Easier to Open and Close a Pocket Knife Blade
Retractable knife blades are notoriously hard to get open at times. This is particularly true (in our experience) of Swiss Army Knives. That’s the main reason we avoid them.
The problem is usually that the blades ‘stick’ to their pivot point, making it really hard to extract. It will literally feel sticky.
To make it easier to open your blade, run a sink full of warm water. Submerge the knife and open and close the blade under the water 10 – 15 times. You can also drip oil into the knife where the blade meets the pivot point to lubricate the knife.
The best rescue knife in our opinion is the StatGear T3. It ticks all the boxes for window punch, serrated and non serrated edge for push and saw functions, and seat belt cutter. But, if you want one with a great firefighter theme or as a gift, we’d probably lean toward the BarTech Pro with its custom engraving option.
Keep in mind, when looking for the best knife for a firefighter, you might want to check your local laws to make sure you’ll be compliant with legal requirements – particularly around whether or not you’re allowed to use spring loaded knives in your region.
Thanks for reading out review and good luck!
Chris & Rosie