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How the Halligan tool changed the firefighting game

The Halligan tool has been an important part of a firefighter’s toolkit from initial creation to present


The Halligan tool has been an important part of a firefighter’s toolkit ever since it was created.


The Halligan tool, sometimes called a Halligan bar, was invented in the late 1940s by FDNY Fire Chief Hugh Halligan. The Halligan tool is considered one of the most effective forcible entry tools firefighters can have at their disposal.

The Halligan Tool came about by necessity

Prior to the Halligan tool, firefighters typically carried a Claw tool, and a Kelly tool. The designs of these tools were imperfect. They were heavy, and left little margin for error, making them troublesome. Many firefighters who used these tools were left with elbow and arm injuries.

Chief Halligan recognized the shortcomings of the Claw and the Kelly tool and developed the Halligan tool, which is comprised of three, much lighter components:

  • Adz – for prying and additional leverage
  • Pick – for quickly breaching locked doors
  • Fork – for breaking latches and locks

At the time of its creation, a standard Halligan tool was approximately 30 inches long and weighed about 8.5 pounds.

As with all great technology, forcible entry tools have evolved

The Halligan tool was designed with an eye toward maximum utility, efficiency and speed for the purpose of forcible entry and emergency demolition. Original Halligan tools are no longer produced, but iterations of it are.

Small hydraulic-assisted tools used to gain entry, like the Rabbit tool, are now commonplace. Even as forcible entry tools become more mechanical, firefighters must always know how to use the tried-and-true forcible entry tools, like the Halligan tool, to gain entry should a mechanical device fail.

Modern applications for the Halligan tool have evolved

Though the Halligan tool was originally conceived of as a forcible entry tool, its versatility has led to recognition for a range of emergency applications. In addition to locked doors, the Halligan can be used to open padlocks and break chains. And in particularly difficult forcible entry scenarios, the Halligan can also be used to remove hinge pins or even an entire door.

Other popular applications of the Halligan tool include:

  • Cutting bolts
  • Prying windows open
  • Leveling and securing a ladder
  • Clearing window and door frames prior to entry
  • Providing foot support when on a roof
  • Demolishing interior walls
  • Turning the gas off to a building
  • Lifting manhole covers
  • Pulling nails
  • Creating purchase points for vehicle extrications
  • Serving as an anchor in self-rescue from an upper floor
  • Removing fallen individuals
  • Self-protection

These are only a few examples of scenarios in which a Halligan tool is used, however, its application reaches to almost any instance in which puncturing, lifting, wedging, prying, twisting or pounding may be needed.

For the veterans out there, what are the most surprising uses you’ve found for the Halligan tool? Comment below.

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This article, originally published Dec. 29, 2016, has been updated.

Laura French is a former editorial assistant for FireRescue1 and EMS1, responsible for curating breaking news and other stories that impact first responders. In a prior role at Forensic Magazine, French was able to combine her interests in journalism, forensics and criminology. French has a bachelor’s degree in communications/journalism with a minor in criminology from Ramapo College in New Jersey.