Know Your Forcible-Entry Basics

In previous articles, we talked about the duties of both the first- and second-due truck company. In this article, we’ll shift gears and focus on a particular truck company duty: forcible entry.

As with any fireground skill, the difficulty associated with forcible entry depends on your competency level. That’s right, it’s your ability to perform the right skill at the right time that really determines the difficulty of the entry situation. Let’s face it, you could be the best irons guy around, but if the situation calls for the rotary saw and you’re not proficient with that tool, then you’re probably not going to get the job done too well.

Successful forcible entry on the fireground includes forcible entry size-up, the right tools and solid forcible entry skills–not to mention an ability to use common sense!

One of the most important skills involved in forcible entry is the ability to size up the possible (and actual) entry challenges, and arrive at the entry location with the appropriate tools for the job.

Like overall fireground size-up, size-up for forcible entry begins by knowing your response district and listening to the initial dispatch to determine where you’re going. Knowing where you’re headed (residential structure vs. commercial complex) and the entry challenges that you’ll likely face is the first step in successful forcible entry. It sets your mind in motion, confirming the tools you should bring and how to use them once you get there. You should also do a quick mental review of the potential problems you could face once you arrive on scene. After all, residential forcible entry is usually different than commercial forcible entry. Each requires different skill sets (and possibly tools) and presents different challenges.

The Right Tools
Forcible entry doesn’t involve a lot of different tools, but it does require having the right tools for the job at hand. Although people today tend to be much more security-conscious than previous generations and, therefore, there are more security devices for us to get through, the same basic forcible-entry tools are still used to get the job done.

The irons are still the No. 1 choice on most inward-swinging (and many outward-swinging) doors. Sure, some doors may be tougher to force and, therefore, may require additional tools, but a set of irons in the hands of a skilled forcible-entry team will get you through most doors.

Train for what you’re likely to encounter: locked entry doors. More specifically, train so you’re proficient at forcing both inward- and outward-swinging doors with a set of irons. Once you’re proficient, train some more. When you get to the door, using this tool should simply be a matter of instinct.

Learn how and when to use a hydraulic forcible-entry tool. You may be the greatest forcible-entry team there is, but when faced with 30 doors in a smoke-filled hallway, you’ll probably hit the wall. That’s when knowing there’s a better tool (for the high number of doors you’re faced with) determines success.

Through-the-lock techniques will require a K-tool (or something similar). So learn how the K-tool works and when it’s the right tool for the job. The quick answer: The K-tool is useful during alarm activations where you need to gain entry and don’t have the key. When you’re faced with heavy fire on arrival, removing the entire door would be the better option. You should know this before you respond to an incident, so it’s simply a matter of grabbing the tool and reviewing the basics before hitting the entryway.

What about rotary saws? Commercial garage doors, security gates and window bars may all require the use of the rotary saw. You may not have security gates, and you may not have window bars, but just about every response district has commercial garage doors.

Let’s not forget the most important forcible-entry tool there is–you! Your ability to know which tools are required and how to use those tools in as many ways as possible will ultimately determine the difficulty involved in the forcible-entry operation.

Here’s the real deal when it comes to forcible entry tools: Don’t over-engineer the forcible-entry challenge! The basic forcible-entry tools will still get you through almost all of the forcible-entry challenges you’re faced with on the fireground.

Although developing forcible-entry skills requires hands-on training, here are a few things you can do to get you headed in the right direction.

Irons: Build, buy or acquire a forcible-entry simulator that lets you learn and develop your skills using the irons. There’s only one way to become proficient forcing doors–and that’s forcing doors! Training should allow you to hone your skills first and then practice under increasingly realistic conditions. Start with just an axe, a Halligan and a door (or prop), and learn how to force the door in as many ways as possible. Once you’ve developed that skill, add restricted areas and smoke conditions. If you’re able to add heat, that will help as well. Don’t forget to perform these skills while wearing all of your gear–and breathing off of your SCBA. Training under real conditions produces real results!

Through-the-Lock: Train the same way for through-the-lock techniques using the K-tool (and other similar tools you may have). That means build, buy or acquire a prop to learn and practice using the tool. Once you’ve become proficient, ramp up the training environment so it’s as realistic as possible.

Rotary Saws: Use real doors (if possible) or props if necessary, and develop your skills using the rotary saw under realistic conditions. Practice cutting with the saw upright, horizontal and at angles. Practice cutting with the saw supported on an object and cutting while you have to support the entire weight of the saw. Practice until you’re proficient! Once you’re comfortable, add some smoke behind the cut. That’s right, smoke coming through the cut will affect your operation. It’s certainly better to figure out what kind of affect it will have during training.

Final Thoughts
Let’s face it, it’s too late to learn forcible-entry techniques once the alarm goes off; there’s usually only enough time to determine which technique will be needed and to ensure the appropriate tools arrive at the entry location. It’s the amount of training you do ahead of time that determines the difficulty of the actual skill performed on the fireground.

In future articles, we’ll go into specific forcible-entry techniques.

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