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From the Fireground
by Jason Hoevelmann

How firefighters can force doors with control

To force doors correctly and efficiently takes practice, and you also have to be good with your tools and know their limitations

By Jason Hoevelmann

Pulling up, we see smoke showing and no cars in the driveway. The house is sealed up and we are going to have to force the door. We take a look at the type of occupancy and what type of door we are dealing with. The old, crusty officer turns his back to the door and starts to "mule" kick the door. Over and over again, he continues to kick.

We have all seen this — and this is not how to force a door. There is more to forcible entry than just forcing the door. Brute strength is not the primary force behind getting locked doors opened. Good, consistent technique will win out more times than not, and the risk of breaking a leg, foot, or ankle is greatly reduced.

On a recent fire in an apartment complex, we were assigned the floor below the fire to check apartments. A police officer saw a bystander re-enter the building and we now needed to check every apartment.

An acting officer immediately started with the "mule" kicking. He quickly got tired and had difficulty even on the rated residential doors. Two of us used a set of irons, halligan and flat head ax, and started forcing doors with good technique. We were able to force more doors in a shorter time, using less energy than the mule-kicking member.

When forcing doors, there are other considerations that must be addressed before just barging in.

Location of victims
Think about where we find victims. Victims are found, in many instances, behind doors, under windows and in other areas of egress in an attempt to exit the burning structure. By kicking the door in, we can severely injure a fire victim that may still be alive but right behind the door.

That victim may be a child, who could be killed by the impact of a kicked door. If we control the door when we force it, we can apply slow, steady pressure that may move a victim but not cause blunt force trauma.

Fire conditions
We cannot always determine what fire conditions are inside the fire area. Caution has to be taken when making entry into any fire area to ensure that conditions are safe for firefighters to enter. One condition is wind-driven fire and pressurized fire compartments.

Kicking a door into these types of rooms can result in firefighters getting burned and/or killed. Forcing the door with the proper tools and technique will allow the door to be forced and controlled by the entry team. If done correctly, the door can be pulled back closed with a tool or a strap of webbing if poor conditions are found.

Securing the door
In the instance that we search multiple units, we may want to close the door to each unit after we have forced the door and searched the area. Whether we mark the doors or just close them, this will eliminate duplication of operations.

If we kick or ram a door open, we can lose the ability to close the door again. This can allow fire and smoke to travel to areas not affected. Using good technique will increase the chances, depending on the type of door forced, to close it again.
In the above scenario where we forced multiple doors in the apartment building, we were able to close each door again.

To force doors correctly and efficiently takes practice. You also have to be good with your tools and know their limitations. Being able to identify different types of doors and locking mechanisms is also important in order to use the right techniques. Train hard and practice and I will see you next month in "From the Fireground."

About the author

Jason Hoevelmann is a deputy chief and fire marshal with the Sullivan (Mo.) Fire Protection District, a combination department, and a career captain and training officer with the Florissant Valley (Mo.) Fire Protection District in North St. Louis County. His experience spans more than 20 years and he has been an instructor for more than 15 years. He is an adjunct instructor for the St. Louis County Fire Academy and is a State Certified Fire Officer II. Jason holds an associate’s degree in paramedic science from East Central College and a bachelor's degree in fire service administration from Eastern Oregon University. He is currently a state advocate for the Everyone Goes Home initiative, a Board Member for the International Society of Fire Service Instructors and on the technical committee for Professional Fire Officer Qualifications for NFPA. He is also co-owner of Engine House Training, LLC.

Chief Hoevelmann can be contacted via e-mail at Jason.Hoevelmann@firerescue1.com.


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