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Got to get in! LAFD crews use several tools to access building interior

Video underscores the importance of all members having forcible entry skills

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Let’s go back to basics for a minute: In order to initiate interior operations at a structure fire, firefighters need to gain access. Without interior access, no interior attack can be made – so we must find a way in.

Many large departments are going to have companies that are dedicated to certain fireground tasks. The truck company, for example, will be assigned the task of opening the building for access. This will involve forcible entry tactics and tools.

For the smaller departments that do not have dedicated companies, or only have one piece of apparatus responding, forcible entry falls into the category of general need-to-know skills for every firefighter.

In this month’s video, we are witnessing some hard work being performed by the truck company trying to gain access to the building. While watching the video, you will notice a few key points.

First, notice how the hoselines are staged outside. Dedicated companies arrive on scene ready to perform their predetermined tasks but are unable to do so because they cannot get in. And we all know that the longer there is no water on the fire, the bigger the fire gets and the worse the problem becomes. Forcing open the doors or access points is crucial and must be completed quickly so the attack team can get in and douse the water.

Second, notice the many types of tools being used to complete the job. We typically think of forcible entry using the Halligan and flat head axe, but in this situation, these go-to tools are being accompanied by other force entry tools. Some of these tools are not always used but are highly effective. You will notice the pick head axe being used to help pry away the OSB sheeting being cut up. The rotary saw is also being used to help cut the OSB sheeting – you can hear the familiar sound of the saw. You will also see a 6-foot pike pole being used at one point. All of these tools can be used to open a building.

Third, notice what they are trying to force open. Forcible entry is not just reserved for doors; it is anything that is preventing or closing access to the building. In this video, it is OSB sheeting secured to the doorways to prevent unwanted people from entering. And behind the OSB are doors along with other items used to secure the access points.

Forcible entry is a skill that needs to be practiced because gaining entry takes all forms of skills and tactics. Knowing which ones to use and how to do it will be key. And remember, no access means no hoselines!

After watching this video and reading this article with your company, a department can do the following:

  • Review the different forcible entry tools on the apparatus of the station;
  • If available, use the forcible entry door prop to practice gaining entry;
  • If no door prop is available, gather a few sections of old garage doors or other building materials, and build a makeshift prop to practice cutting with a rotary saw or the use of hand tools; and
  • If access to an old building is available, use it for forcible entry practice.

Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1998, currently serving as a firefighter with the Fort Gratiot Fire Department in Michigan. He is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States and India. He graduated from Seneca College of Applied and Technologies as a fire protection engineering technologist, and received his bachelor’s degree in fire and life safety studies from the Justice Institute of British Columbia and his master’s degree in safety, security and emergency management from Eastern Kentucky University. van der Feyst is the lead author of the book “Residential Fire Rescue” and “The Tactical Firefighter.” Connect with van der Feyst via email.