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Fire Operations
by Fred LaFemina

Back to Basics: Forcible Entry

One of the basic duties of fire service members is to perform some sort of forcible entry. Sometimes it can be very easy, while at other moments it can be extremely difficult and challenging.

Those in the fire service are always coming up with new ideas, and with the advent of technology there are many forcible entry tools available on the market. But when I respond to a fire, I occasionally wonder if all of the firefighters could force the door without the assistance of a hydraulic forcible entry tool.

Forcible entry is a lost art. I believe members of the fire service need to get back to basics to rediscover it.

Remember we are mission oriented and will do whatever it takes to get the job done — safely.  The irons (ax & halligan) are not accessories for your gear to make you look fashionable — they are the tools that allow firefighters to accomplish many tasks when needed. When that rabbit tool craps out, you always have the old fail safe system of the irons. So learn and be proficient in using them.

Forcible entry relies on physics, a science that involves the fundamental laws of the universe. It deals with the elementary constituents of the universe — matter, energy, space and time and their interactions. Although physics has a lot to do with forcible entry, I realize this is not on your mind when you are enveloped in thick, black and acrid smoke, trying to force a door. But this definition shows a relationship between science and the fire service.

This article will deal with basic forcible entry techniques for inward and outward opening doors. There are many other areas of forcible entry that I will discuss in future articles.

Ancient skills 
The basic techniques are almost ancient these days with the advent of hydraulic forcible entry tools. This is why today's firefighters are not as proficient in forcible entry as our predecessors, who were forcing doors conventionally on a daily basis. Granted, occupancies are more heavily secured but basic forcible entry procedures will always apply, at least in theory.

Remember, the rabbit, the bunny or the forcible entry saw may not work as anticipated and that is when you have to really shine. You will now have to use your tools, halligan, ax, bam-bam, or bolt cutters. The fire is not going to wait for you to gain access to an area, so be sure and know how to use your tools.

The golden rule: Try the doorknob first. Think about it and don't kid yourself; all of us have found out after the fact that the door was already open. That is ok though — we all make mistakes and we learn every day. That's how we get better at our jobs.

Another good rule to follow is to try to preserve the integrity of the door when forcing it. You may have to shut it in a hurry to keep fire out of your area or while the engine waits for water. You may have to also control the door to allow occupants to escape from the fire building. Always try to do the least amount of damage to the door, and for non-emergencies try to gain access from a window or by using a ladder.

Inward opening doors
These doors sometimes have multiple locks, so there are variations on how to force them. Place the fork end of the halligan 6" above or below the lock with the bevel side of the fork touching the door. Slightly tilt the halligan toward the ceiling and strike the end of the halligan with the ax. Drive the fork of the halligan past the interior door jamb. Once you have attained this position apply pressure on the halligan toward the door forcing it open.

If resistance is met while driving the halligan with the ax, turn the halligan so that the bevel side of the fork is against the door jamb. Drive the halligan in and force the door. If additional leverage is needed, place the head of the ax between the door and the fork of the halligan. This technique takes up the space between the door and the fork of the halligan.

You can also use the hook end of the halligan by driving it into the door jamb 6" above or below the lock and apply downward pressure on the halligan. If the door has two locks, use the above procedures but place the tool between the locks. Never allow the door to spring open as this may expose you to heat, smoke or fire.

These types of doors can also be forced on the hinge side as well: Use the back of an ax and strike the solid part of the door adjacent to the upper hinge location. Always force the upper hinge first to allow heat and smoke to rise from the opening, then continue forcing the bottom hinge.

Outward Opening Doors
The methods used to force outward opening doors is determined by the position of the door in the frame.
With flush fitting doors, you can use either the adz or the fork end of the tool. If using the fork end of the halligan, place the concave side of the fork toward the door. Drive the tool between the door and the jamb, but avoid penetrating the jamb. When the tool has spread the door as far as it will go, force the adz end of the halligan away from the door. Another method is to place the adz end of the halligan 6" above or below the lock and drive it in the space between the door and the jamb — but don't penetrate the door stop of the jamb. Pry down and out with the fork end of the halligan. You may sometimes encounter a recessed outward opening door with a wall adjacent to the lock side of the door. Place the adz end of the halligan  6" above or below the lock and drive it into the space between the door and the jamb. Do not penetrate the door stop portion of the jamb. Pry down and out with the fork end of the halligan.

Forcible entry techniques are used in the fire service every day. While this article focuses on forcing residential doors, there are many areas of forcible entry and different techniques, which I will cover in future articles

Technology has made forcible entry easier and our members are gaining access to areas quicker – but, being "old school," I pride myself on being able to force doors the conventional way, too.

 Discuss this article at FireRescue1 Forums

About the author


Chief Fred LaFemina is a 21 year veteran of the FDNY. He is presently assigned to the FDNY’s Rescue Operations Battalion No. 1 as the battalion commander. He has been with special operations for more than 16 years. He is also the task force leader on NY-TF1’s Urban Search & Rescue Team and has deployed to a number of disasters. He is also a member of the Rescue Working Group nationally for the USAR Program and a backup member of the Incident Support Team.

Please feel free to email Chief LaFemina at Fred.LaFemina@FireRescue1.com.



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