By Author(s): Chad Allison 
Published Thursday, March 1, 2012
| From the March 2012  Issue of FireRescue 
The tones went off, and I grumbled in my sleepy stupor. Two working structures earlier that night contributed to my lack of enthusiasm for another downtown ringing alarm; however, when the dispatcher said the words “structure fire,” my ears perked up. Then, when the dispatcher said, “Battalion 39 at scene reporting heavy smoke with 20 to 30 people trapped,” all weariness was forgotten.
I was sitting tiller on the tractor-trailer when we came around the corner to arrive at the scene. What I saw looked more like a movie than anything I’d ever experienced in the two years I had on the job at that time: Heavy smoke was pouring out of the front door and open windows on the second and third floors of a single-resident occupancy (SRO) dwelling. People were hanging out of the open windows.
A few heartbeats later, I was on the third floor coaxing a blind lady onto the aerial ladder and into the arms of my partner. She turned in my direction and said, “My next door neighbor, she’s still in her room. No way she made it out.” I looked at my partner and told him to follow me in after he got her down the ladder. “I’m doing a right-hand search,” I said.
I turned from the window, clicked my regulator into my mask and opened the door to the center hallway. The smoke was thick and nutty brown; the only difference between what I could see and having my eyes closed were the swirly patterns in the smoke. I had to push my gloved hand onto my mask in order to see my hand in front of my face. I chocked the door and began a right-hand search while safety messages, line-of-duty deaths and my little girl raced through my mind; no partner, no radio, no visibility at the ground, the heat driving me to that level—not good.
Nearly 10 years later, I’m writing about it, so I fared well. Part of the reason I made it out in one piece: a simple wedge of wood holding the door open that led to my exit.
Over the past couple months, I’ve been reviewing a far more sophisticated door chock—and one that I would much rather have had with me on that call a decade ago. It’s called the FatIvan, and it’s touted as “the world’s only fold-up door chock.”
Weighing just 5 oz. and measuring 4" x 2" x 1", you’d hardly know the tool was in your turnout pocket or strapped to your fire helmet. But don’t let the small size and weight fool you. It’s a 100% corrosion-resistant chock constructed of engineered plastic and zinc-plated steel, with a strip of reflective tape to catch the eye. So what’s most apparent about this door chock is that the manufacturer, NewCal LLC, used high-quality materials when constructing it.
I tested this chock by using it on some heavy doors, such as the double-door entryways leading to residential and commercial high-rise buildings in downtown San Diego. On one fire incident, I noticed the residents of an apartment complex using a waist-high concrete trash can to keep a security screen door propped open because of the door’s weight. I put the FatIvan on the hinge of the security door and was able to remove the bulky trash can, which prevented it from hindering ingress and egress of the working firefighters. I figured with the weight of the heavy door crushing the small, plastic-looking FatIvan, the chock was surely going to sustain damage. But after the incident, it still looked and operated like new. A few months and a few dozen doors later, it still looks and operates like new.
How it operates is simple and user-friendly: The tool has two plastic “wings” that fold together around a steel hook. The user opens up these “wings” and slides the hook on a hinge. The tool will then bear the weight of the door and keep it open nearly 90 degrees.
The FatIvan can slide onto any hinges a door may have; most have three, and I used it on just about every hinge without noticing any difference in performance. The directions provided state that the steel hook must be seated completely on the hinge for correct usage. I did encounter two doors that I was not able to seat the steel hook on, because of the narrow gap between the door and the jamb; however, for just $1 more (the FatIvan Yellow retails for $15), you can get the FatIvan with magnets, which allow you to still use the door chock when it won’t seat on the hinge completely.
With the FatIvan folded, it can be placed on a metal door at the edge, where it will keep the door from closing completely. On a wooden door, I was able to place the folded FatIvan on the metal hinge plate that screws into the frame, which kept the door open a little wider, although it still wasn’t as effective as the hook. That said, there may be situations where you don’t want to keep a door wide open, but you don’t want the door to close and lock either, in which case, the magnet is an especially nice feature.
The greatest feature about this product compared to a wooden wedge, plastic wedge or a nail jammed in the frame: The FatIvan remains in place if the door is disturbed, and it won’t do any damage to the door or the frame. When using a wooden wedge, for example, you have to drive it underneath the door, where it can easily be kicked or moved accidently, thus rendering the chock useless. If placed in the gap between the door and the frame to keep the door from closing completely, and the door is opened even a little bit, wooden wedges tend to fall out of place, rendering them useless. With the FatIvan, both the steel hook and the magnet feature keep the chock in place, regardless of whether the door is opened wider, completely removing the potential for it to be kicked out of place by firefighters or equipment.
Which brings me back to my earlier story: I was still within the IDLH atmosphere when my Vibralert (low-air alarm) went off. While I was making my way back, the Vibralert started shutting off intermittently along with the flow of air, and for those few frightful seconds, the mask would suck to my face, preventing me from drawing a breath. Then the Vibralert would kick back on, allowing me to breathe again. I hadn’t been monitoring my air pressure and was relying on the Vibralert to warn me of when my air was low (we didn’t have HUD lights on the regulator back then).
As I tried not to panic, I lay on my belly and stretched across the hallway. I found the open door where I had started my search and confirmed it by feeling for the wooden wedge. My partner had not followed me into the third floor (which is another story), but if he had, he could have disturbed that wedge and eliminated my only way of identifying the shortcut out to my point of entry. The FatIvan would have completely eliminated that risk. Granted, I could have found my way to a window in one of the rooms I had searched, but that feeling of being alone and unable to draw a breath at a working fire, even briefly, is something I still remember clearly, and it was far from pleasant. Needless to say, there were a lot of lessons for me at that fire. There have been some changes in fireground operations that have helped prevent this from reoccurring.
Getting back to the FatIvan, I would recommend having not one, but two or three, as fires larger than a single-family dwelling can require you to pass through several doors. Currently, our safety committee is looking into including the FatIvan in our rapid intervention team bags.
The FatIvan can be used outside of firefighting as well: I used it most frequently on medical aids to keep keypad or self-locking doors open for the ambulance crew, rather than holding the door open myself, which allows me to focus on the patient.
In short, the manufacturer describes the FatIvan as “versatile, functional, durable and safe.” I wholeheartedly agree.
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