A forcible entry tactic for outward and inward doors with firefighters staged in a more protected area
By Alexander Degnan
One particularly tough circumstance that can stall an attack from the outset is a violent condition directly behind the door you are trying to gain access through. I refer not to just a “good fire” in this circumstance but a potential backdraft, smoke explosion, light up, or flash phenomena that puts the team on the other side of the door in direct peril. We are well taught to time entry with vertical ventilation, ensure that all personal protective e equipment (PPE) is donned and ready, stay “away” from the door to be forced, and perhaps find a less punishing way in. But what if we can’t?
Many texts touch on hazard recognition and abatement in such instances. Forcing and putting your team in the line of fire at one of these instances is a high-risk “must” at some fires. When the fire requires immediate water application to either quell a backdraft potential or to beat back a fire that is ripping right behind the door, we know that we need to force the door and get the forcible entry team out of harm’s way as fast as possible.
Another pertinent example of this would be a fully involved apartment at the base of a stairway in an occupied multiple dwelling (OMD). In such instances, the attack team needs to make every effort to keep the stair protected, beat back the fire, line into the fully involved area, and complete extinguishment. The brief period (seconds) that the forcible entry team exposes themselves to the environment can be hazardous. If the door is not controlled, they need to force and then clear the area, and then the hose team can start water. This may only take seconds. Unfortunately, so does a light up or backdraft.
There is a way, not ideal but effective, for the forcible entry to occur with the team in a more protected location. With your standard complement of tool and pocket rope, you can achieve an effective force and instantly start water. If you do not carry a pocket or guide rope, you can use the end of your bail line. (Electing to use your life rope to establish access is risky. You may expose it to flame impingement and unwarranted damage and you need to retrieve it. If you MUST, use the back end. By doing so, you do not displace any descent controller, fool with any anchoring device, or upset the packing.) You don’t encounter these situations on a daily basis, but you need to take measures to afford needed protection for the ladder crew when warranted.
First and foremost, recognize that you are dealing with more than “just a fire” behind your entrance. Teams need to realize by the advanced nature of fire, heat condition, delayed response, occupancy, smoke behavior, or any arriving indicator that they have a real threat to the forcing crew and hose team right in front of the door. Arriving crews need to be well-versed in reading flash phenomena indicators before forcing in. A prime indicator when checking is nearly identical, intense heat at both the top and bottom of the door. Should you check the upper third with the back of a gloved hand, then the bottom and feel no appreciable difference, expect intensity behind it. If you can see your thermal screen to get a read, scan it. Again, if visibility permits, blistered doors, fire through the cracks, and smoke pressing from around the entire door are all hallmarks of at least full involvement beyond. If you do not recognize the hazard, you cannot combat it.
To force an outward door in this fashion, place the adz of the halligan as you normally would for an outward door (photo 1). The striking member then drives it in–the only difference being that you want to drive the tool slightly farther in than you normally would because you will not be pulling directly from the tool. Next, with either a pocket rope or the back end of the bail line, tie any hitch around the fork end of the tool (photo 2). The type of knot is not nearly as important as ensuring that you slide the bight in between the tines of the fork. This way the rope will not slide down that tool upon forcing. After that, pay out enough rope to keep out of the blast zone or away from the door (photo 3). It is important to remain off to the side. There is no point in pulling on a length of rope if you are going to stand directly in front of the door.
Once in an advantageous position, and with the hose team charged and ready to INSTANTLY start water, pull hard and sharply on the rope (photos 4, 5). The hose crew would do well to stay on the same side of the door as you when you pull the door. The door swings away from them and they can immediately start flowing. Depending on how tight the door is, how secured, and how snugly the tool is seated, it works quite well. Additionally, when forcing an outward door in the traditional manner, you can only push or pull the tool in one thrust as far as your arms allow. The range of motion of the halligan is around 90 degrees at a time. With the rope, you could conceivably pull the tool a full 180 degrees. (It is also possible to have more than one person to pull the assisting rope—or to use more than one if needed). It is important to understand that this does not negate the importance of door control, topside ventilation, and the like. This would be an extreme case where an exit is threatened, an explosion is possible, or the need has been determined by a starved fire.
An inward door is a little more difficult but also achievable. The reason for this is that when you force inward doors, you apply force toward the door. How are you to “pull” a door with rope when the force is applied in the opposite direction? The answer lies in tool placement and your positioning. You do lose some of your force transmission in this method because by pulling from a safer position, some of the force is lost along the length of the rope as it is not applied wholly perpendicular to the door.
To pull the door, place the halligan for a standard inward force (bevel side toward the door and driven into the jamb). The driver of the tool drives the tool in as the angle is increased toward the door (photo 6). Again, in this fashion, you may want to drive the tool in slightly more than you would for a traditional force (photo 7). Also, if possible, instead of being perfectly perpendicular to the door, make the tool a little obtuse to the door to “cheat” your pull a little. You can also achieve this by sliding a wedge into the gap created. With the angle increased in this manner, as you pull on the rope, you ensure that you pull through a plane and toward the door as you pull it toward yourself.
After the tool is seated as above, affix your rope to the end of the tool such that it encompasses the adz and horn. Again, this is so the rope does not slip down the tool (photo 8). After that, get as in line with the door as possible. This is key. Were you to attempt to pull from a position “out” from the door, you would not apply any force to the door. The tool would simply be pulled out. In line with the door as possible, pull sharply and inward to effect the force (photo 9-10). If it helps, envision a circle lying on its side with the door bisecting the circle. Place the tool at one end and pull it through the arc to the other. Again, the forcing team is away, and the engine crew is in a position for immediate application and beat-back of the awaiting condition.
To reiterate, whether for an inward or outward door, the hose team absolutely needs to have a charged line ready before the force starts. That does not mean calling for water. If the line is limp, the force does not start. That said, the engine team needs to be low and protected, just as they would in a punishing hallway, cellar, or hard apartment push. They should remain on the side of the door that will allow them to apply water to the largest area and be far enough back that they are using the reach of the stream to their utmost advantage.
Coordination is paramount. If you encounter a dying fire at a large storefront with the telltale backdraft signs at street level (puffing, smoke-stained glass, smoke from seams), this could be an option. A totally buttoned up and hot vacant, an area of an OMD closed off with thermal-pane windows, and a scorching door are just a couple of candidates for this force. Of note, with the exception of immediate life saving, a wind-driven fire may NOT be a candidate for this force. If there is a better way to quench and ultimately make entry, it needs consideration. However, if there is any chance of life behind that door and our teams are in a position to get in, an attempt is warranted.
If this force is to be made INSIDE a building, it stands to reason that a place of refuge should be forced as well. It needs to be done quickly, and it needs to be a space not directly in the blast path. This is if we cannot control conditions behind the door or lose the hallway. Also, conditions of the hallway itself may dictate whether this force is possible. Examples would be narrow or dead-end corridors. Angled doors at railroad landings could be problematic as well. The forcing team needs to recognize when they will be able to achieve the leverage needed.
As with most tough conditions at fires, recognition of the potential is key. Communication and the ability to immediately start quelling the fire are requirements. When the ability to alleviate a backdraft from the top side or rear is not an option, when a fire area is raging adjacent to an exit and immediate action is needed, we need to take as many steps as possible to get in quickly and protect the team standing in the blast path. There are always contingency plans that the incident commander can consider; this is when we need to take the door in front of us. Conditions of this nature have the unique advantage of an incredible head start. When aggressive but calculated action is needed in the face of this danger, we can consider this force.
ALEXANDER DEGNAN is a 16-year member of the Jersey City (NJ) Fire Department (JCFD), where he is the captain of #618 Squad Co. 4, a position he has held since 2015. Prior to his captain’s position, he was a 10-year firefighter with the JCFD’s #1013 Squad Co. 4.