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Step by step: Forcing an outward-opening metal door

Tools, technique, training are keys to gaining quick access through metal door set in block wall

By Henry S. Magaña

You are dispatched to a fire in a commercial structure, which you know to be a one-story strip mall with a lightweight truss roof. The first-arriving engine and truck companies are working the front or alpha side.

As the second-arriving truck company, you are assigned to open up the rear of the dry cleaners and cut utilities.

Other members of your crew are shutting utilities. You and your partner are tasked with forcing an outward-opening metal door set in a block wall. Your size up of the door does not reveal any bolts or rivets that may indicate a drop bar.

The metal door does have multiple deadbolt locks on the latch or knob side. It also appears that the hinges are constructed of stainless steel.

How would you force this door? What tools do you have available? Can your saws cut stainless steel?

As we all know, there are many variables in door security devices and door construction. The method I will discuss is merely one option, one card in the deck, and will not work in every situation. Experience, training, tool expertise and common sense are what make for successful operations.

A forged Halligan paired with a heavy-duty flat-head ax (soon to be a big chisel) are required for this operation. Add to this a 16-pound sledgehammer.

The phrase, "go big or go home" really does apply here. The heavier sledge will shorten your work time. We carry two sledgehammers on our company. One has a short handle for interior or confined ops and a second with a standard length handle for breaking concrete. For this operation I recommend the longer handle. 

When dealing with this outward-opening metal door in a solid wall, the idea is to attack the hinges rather than the locks. Remember, an exterior door does not need to remain on the hinges. However, removing an interior door from the hinges can have severe consequences.

The objective is to shear the hinge screws on the jamb side by using the surface area of the flat-head ax blade to shear all of the screws at once. By hitting the ax with the sledge, the force will drive the ax through the screws.

Take note that working the jamb side rather than the door side of the hinge is recommended because the door frame is solid and not apt to separate. Because metal doors are hollow, using this method on the door side will tend to separate the door skin leaving the screws attached to the hinge. This will create more work and take longer to accomplish.

First, attack the top hinge. You and your partner will need to position yourselves accordingly and may have to work both left and right handed. You may also need to hit the hinge with the sledgehammer from the side to fold it over slightly to gain a small gap for the ax blade.

In situations where the door is inset into the wall, the jamb side of the hinge may not be accessible. This will require attacking the door side of the hinge.

Begin by placing the flat-head ax at about a 30- to 45-degree angle with the tip of the ax blade at the point between the hinge and the jamb. It is much easier to get a purchase with the point at first.

Hit the axe with the sledge with enough force to gain a purchase. The longer handle sledge may work best for this since the firefighter with the sledge will need to hit the ax at a downward angle.

Once the tip of the ax has a good purchase, begin rotating the ax so that the entire edge of the blade is forced into the gap. Communication and coordination between firefighters is imperative. The firefighter maneuvering the ax should call out "hit, hit" when ready.

Once the entire edge of the axe blade is in the gap, hit it with enough force to bury it to the jamb. You will be able to discern when you reach this point by the solid feeling encountered. This should have sheared all of the screws for this hinge.

Repeat these steps for the remaining hinges. Positioning, communication and coordination are essential. Shearing the screws on the bottom hinge will necessitate good teamwork.

Once all of the hinge screws have been sheared, use the Halligan and sledge on the hinge side to pop the door away from the doorjamb. This may require more than one purchase. Remove the door by pivoting it on the latch side.

Keep in mind that you may be assigned to an engine company with a minimal amount of forcible-entry tools. When it comes to forcible entry and access to rescue one of our own, experience, training and tool expertise could be the deciding factors. When training, give yourself worst-case scenario objectives and practice like you're going to play.

Be aware, take care.

About the author
Capt. Henry S. Magana is a 29-year veteran of the fire service and currently rolls with the Denver Fire Department's truck company 19. He has spent 25 years on a truck company, is a rescue team manager for Colorado Task Force 1 since it's inception nearly 20 years ago, and is a lead instructor for the Structural Collapse Technician course. He has deployed to the World Trade Center in 2001 and Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008.

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