There is approximately one break-in every 13 seconds in the United States. With break-ins happening more often, home and business owners are installing more and more complex locking mechanisms on their doors and windows.
With this being said, firefighters should expand their forcible entry toolbox. Forcible entry, as defined by International Fire Service Training Association (IFSTA), is “the techniques used to get into buildings or other areas of confinement when normal means of entry are locked or blocked”. Knowing the various techniques is vital for all members.
To be completely effective in forcible entry, a combination of knowledge, skills, and experience must be combined. One must have knowledge of various types of doors, hardware, and locks. Knowledge also involves being able to quickly “sizeup” the easiest way to gain entry. Firefighters apply their knowledge of doors, locks, tools, building construction, and techniques to skillfully execute forcible entry.
One can only sharpen their skills by repeatedly practicing forcible entry to gain experience. As anything a firefighter does, learning from success and failure is the only way to become their best. Today we will work on expanding your knowledge by discussing various tools used to gain entry. There are five (5) different groups of forcible entry tools; striking, prying, cutting, pulling, and through the lock. Although there are many different tools and combination of tools, the right tool for the job is the tool that accomplishes the job the quickest.
This covers any tool that can be used to deliver enough of a force to break a locking mechanism or help drive another tool. The power a striking tool exerts can be explained as Force = Weight X Speed. Too heavy of a striking tool will not generate enough speed to force entry.
There are many uses to the modern fire ax. It can be used to break objects or can be used to drive the halligan. Flathead axes most commonly come in either six or eight pounds. When combined with the Halligan the set becomes “married” resulting in the most practical forcible entry tool.
The sledge, like the flathead ax, can be used to break objects or to drive the Halligan. There are four different sizes of sledges; 8- 10- 12- and 16-pounds. Just like the ax, the weight is all in the head of the tool. The most common sledge used for marrying with the Halligan is the 10-pound. The 16-pound sledge is too heavy to swing and drive the Halligan; however, it can be used for breaking down doors.
Tools that fall into this category can be used to pry jambs away from doors, lift objects, or help expose a lock.
Deputy Chief Hugh Halligan (FDNY) designed the original Halligan tool in the 1940s. Although the original design has changed, the Halligan remains to be one of the most versatile tools for forcible entry. The Halligan comes in many different lengths and weights, with the most common and effective size being 30-inch forged steel. There are three main components to the Halligan tool; these are the adz, pike, and fork. With all prying tools the size, length, and weight of the tool
will determine the mechanical advantage gained.
This tool has been replaced in recent years by the Halligan bar. However, the Kelly tool is a 28-inch long steel bar. The Kelly tool has two main features; one end has a 3-inch wide adz, while the other end has a large fork.
Miscellaneous prying tools
Crowbar and pry bar
Cutting tools are used to cut away material to break through a door or wall, or to open up a locking mechanism.
There are two styles of axes; flathead and pick head. The flathead is the most common ax used for forcible entry; it can also be used to break through walls and doors. Pick head axes are not ideally used for forcible entry; however, they can be used to cut through doors and walls. However, it can be used to puncture, pull, and pry.
Used to cut metal bars, cables, and wires the bolt cutters can be very useful for forcible entry. Like most tools, there are many different sizes; the most common being 36 inches in length. Heavy-duty padlocks and casehardened shackles should be avoided when using bolt cutters.
The most common power tool used for forcible entry. When picking saws, they are available in two basic types: rotary saw and chain saw. Both saws are normally powered by a two-cycle gasoline engine, and most safely operated by two firefighters.
Types of blades
Carbide-Tipped Blades – This blade is used for cutting wood, composite materials, light-gauge metals, and polycarbonate plastic.
Metal Cutting Blades – Most commonly, an abrasive disc made of aluminum oxide. This blade is used for cutting locks, hardware, steel doors, and roll-down gates.
Masonry Cutting Blades – An abrasive disc made of silicon carbide or can be steel with a diamond matrix blade. This blade is used to cut concrete, brick, block, and stone.
Pulling tools are grouped by length of their handles and type of head. These kinds of tools are mostly used for searching for hidden fire, but can be useful for
forcible entry also.
The pike pole is the “Hook” of “Hook and Ladder” and is one of the oldest firefighting tools still in service today; the original use was to pull down walls and neighboring buildings to stop fire spread. However, like the Halligan, the pike pole has changed over the years. Today’s pike poles range from 4-12’ long and most commonly have fiberglass handles. Mostly used to pull ceilings and walls to look for hidden fire, the pike pole can also be a useful tool for breaking windows to gain entry into a structure or for ventilation.
Through the lock
There are a number of specialized tools that have been developed over the years by firefighters based on experience from trial and error.
This tool pulls out the lock cylinder and will expose the mechanism in order for the firefighter to trip the lock with various key tools. The tool gets its name from its design; the backside of the tool is shaped like a letter K and slides over the lock mechanism.
The front side of the tool has a special loop for the adz end of the Halligan to fit into. To use this tool you get a purchase with the K side of the tool over the lock and use the Halligan to pull/pry the cylinder out of the lock. Once this has been accomplished, the use of a key tool is needed to operate the locking mechanism. Key tools can be either bent, squared, or screwdriver style. Tools similar to the K-tool include A-tool, officer’s tool, and REX tool.
We have not discussed all tools for forcible entry, but with the information presented, you can establish a working knowledge of tools needed to gain entry into buildings. Like any fire ground skill, knowledge of tools alone is not enough to get the job done.
Knowing when and how to use the tools is just as vital. Getting these tools off the apparatus and examining them is also necessary. Take into consideration that perfecting the use of these tools in a controlled environment will help you accomplish fire ground activities when called upon to use.