Forcible Entry: Conducting The Size-Up

Robert Morris sizes up the most effective methods of forcible entry at secured buildings in emergency and non-emergency situations.


Providing entry at secured buildings is one of the most important operations that firefighters must perform. A high level of security is common in most urban areas, and is becoming more routinely encountered in the suburban areas as well. Although primarily considered a truck operation...


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The HFT is generally effective only on inward-opening doors that have a strong frame (metal) which is needed to anchor the jaw of the tool. On doors with a weaker wooden frame the jaws tend to rip through the wood and the tool does not get a good bite.

Where speed of entry is the primary concern, conventional is the way to go, but it must be remembered that there are many options to consider and practical experiences is the best teacher.

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Photo by Robert Morris
An inside view of a steel door with rim locks. At the top is a vertical-bolt Segal lock. At the bottom is a double-bar Fox lock.

The through-the-lock method involves removing the lock cylinder with the proper tools and operating the internal locking mechanism. A good working knowledge of the types of locks you may encounter is extremely important when using this method, and will greatly improve your rate of success.

A wide array of tools can be used for through the lock operations. The "K" tool is widely used but has some limitations. Lock pullers such as the officers tool (O-tool), the "Rex" tool, the Sunila tool and others vary in their ability to pull the variety of lock cylinders. The halligan tool, "Bam Bam" tool and channel lock pliers can also be used to remove some types of cylinders. Once the lock cylinder has been removed, using the proper key tool can open the lock.

As with any technique, through-the-lock offers a variety of advantages, as well as some disadvantages. Generally it causes less damage, may result in quicker entry on some locks, and allows for the door to be re-locked following operations in many cases. Conversely, some cylinders may be difficult to pull, cylinder guard plates often slow down the operation, and several locks on a door may lead to confusion as to which locks are locking or unlocking.

When dealing with heavy security devices, such as roll-down steel gates with heavy-duty padlocks and other locking devices, power tools save valuable time and allow quick and reliable entry. The power saw, with an aluminum oxide disc, is the most versatile of the power tools. It is capable of opening most security devices in rapid fashion. The oxy-acteylene torch and, to a lesser degree, the MAPP torch, are also effective in many situations. The battery-powered sawzall also has the potential for some jobs.

Fire Conditions

The conditions under which we operate are important size-up considerations. The location and extent of fire as well as the potential for backdraft or flashover will have an effect on the method, timing and location of forcible entry. For example, the high heat and poor visibility commonly encountered on the floors above the fire may make the hydraulic forcible entry tool the best choice. If backdraft is suspected, you must wait for a charged hoseline and ventilation to take place before gaining entry.

It is important to maintain the integrity of the door during forcible entry to confine the fire and protect the means of egress. When heavy fire is suspected behind the door you are about to force, call for a charged hoseline of adequate size to be placed in position prior to entry.

Door Construction

Wood doors. Wood doors are constructed as solid, hollow or wood with a glass panel. They may be hung in wood or metal frames. Generally, wood doors are relatively easy to force as the door or frame will split and fail. Be aware that some wood doors will burn through quickly and allow the fire to extend. Doors with glass panels may allow quick entry by breaking glass, but beware that this will destroy the integrity of the door, letting smoke and fire out and complicating the forcible entry operation.

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Photo by Robert Morris
A mortise lock with a spring latch and deadbolt.

If the door has double cylinder locks or locks that can't be opened quickly through the broken window, the door must now be forced conventionally with the added problems of heat, smoke, or fire venting from the opening made.

Glass doors. These are the most common entry doors to commercial and business occupancies. They may be metal framed with glass (most common) or all glass. Through-the-lock is usually the best method on these doors.