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The Butcher's Bill
by Tom LaBelle
Sponsored by Globe

The safe approach to forcible entry

Done right, forced entry is a thing of beauty; done wrong and it can endanger the entire fire operation

By Tom LaBelle

As we continue to look at some of the core functions of truck company operations we find our selves at the “E” of our mnemonic LOVERS-U. The E stands for entry, and usually forcible entry — the level of force preferably being in direct proportion to the level of emergency.

We always encourage members to get off the apparatus, grab some tools and assemble for orders. It can sometimes be amazing to see what "tools" members choose to show up with. And usually, after I question their chromosomal make up, they will return with a more appropriate tool.

The tools we carry should be those that can be used for forcible entry. That's because forcible-entry tools can be used for forcible egress as well. 

Standing outside performing forcible entry can often seem like an eternity. I assure you that the process seems even slower if you are in with the fire and trying to get out.

The potential to need forcible egress is why everyone needs to understand these concepts. In many communities, where we face the simplest of locks and doors, we may become complacent on these skills. However, being on the wrong side of the door during a highly dynamic thermal event, these skills being second nature are invaluable.

Forcible-entry tools basically fall into three categories: cutting, prying or striking. Some tools can do multiple things. A flat-head ax can strike or cut. A halligan bar can strike and pry. 

Remember, no tool does both simultaneously. This is why it is so important that crew members carry tools that compliment each other rather than everyone carrying the same tool.

These boots are made for walking
Although many have used it and it can be successful, we really need to teach our members that the bottom of their boots and their shoulders are not forcible-entry tools of choice. There are a handful of reasons for this, most of which have to do with hurting firefighters and civilians alike.

A large number of victims are found right at the door. Kicking in the door can often provide quite a dent in the head for someone already having a bad day. Also, unless the department has unlimited staffing, a member getting hurt while performing this function can take that team out of action.

Door control is also of great importance and is difficult to do when applying the bottom of your boot to the door. We've all seen what uncontrolled ventilation prior to hand line placement can do to increase the volume of fire. 

This is why when our brothers in the police service kick open the door and leave it open the fire often expands beyond a single line fire.

Mystery behind closed doors
Finally, we just don't know what's behind the door. At a structure fire I was at a few weeks ago, the floor was burned out to the cellar right up to the threshold of the front door. Had someone kicked in this door and lost his balance he would have fallen directly into the cellar fire.

Using tools helps us think about our entry techniques, controls our actions and helps ensure that were going to be ready to tackle the next tasks in front of us.

Forcible entry is really about sizing up your entry points and finding their, quite literally, weak links. Is the door we face in a wooden frame with just a half inch of pine doorjamb holding the lock? Is the door covered with bolt heads indicating the door is fortified? Does the entry way match up with the occupancy type?

We've all been to calls where a team is assigned a task and attacks it with laser-like focus. This is wonderful until they can't accept that their original plan is failing and it's time to start plan B. 

We need to teach our members to be smarter than the entryway they face. It's imperative that forcible entry teams communicate to operations what they see. Remember that the operations chief has a plan in his head that he's communicated and that all other teams are trying to make happen.

If the chief is sending you to open the door, and in their mind its just going to be a standard “pop” the door and in, then their plan works. If you encounter a door that the local bank would find to be overkill, you need to transmit that so that the overall plan can change.

Keep an eye out in your community and you'll see all sorts of interesting doors that will require a little extra effort. Spending time at your own firehouse with your crews looking at different doors and windows, how they're constructed and secured will give your members insight in to how to identify weak links.

Good forcible entry combined with good line stretching (basic truck and engine work) are, quite frankly, wonderful things to watch. Practicing these key functions will allow for safe and effective operations on the fire ground.

About the author

Sponsored by Globe

Tom LaBelle serves as an assistant chief with the Wynantskill (N.Y.) Fire Department where he is responsible for training. He has been employed by the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs since 1995. Prior to joining NYSAFC, Asst. Chief LaBelle served as the legislative director for the New York State Assembly's Sub Committee on Fire Protection Services. He provides support for career and volunteer departments from the nations largest to smallest. He currently sits as a voting member on the NFPA 1720 committee. He is a certified fire instructor and fire officer. Chief LaBelle can be reached via email at Tom.Labelle@FireRescue1.com.


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