Forcible entry has become a serious problem for the fire service all over the country. In some high crime areas we see tougher and tougher entry situations with locking systems that try to stay one step ahead of the criminal element. Unfortunately we in the fire service are often behind on the techniques and technology that is necessary for us to do our job. Even in "safe" areas with low crime rates we see change. Every time a local TV station runs a special on crime there will be an increase in security.
In private dwellings we used to feel that forcible entry was not a problem.
Today in a new house with a 2"-3" solid oak door equipped with a deadbolt lock with a 2" throw, you had better be up on your conventional forcible entry techniques. With a wood frame a hydraulic forcible entry tool (Rabbit, etc.) will not be effective because it will push the stop off before it forces the door open.
There are certain FE procedures that should be used. These "rules" or procedures will assist you in doing the job ahead.
- 1st, try to determine what is behind the door. If we simply try the door to see if it is locked (2nd procedure) we may be surprised to find that it is not! We may be unexpectedly met with a doorway of fire and be unable to close it again. To determine conditions behind a door may not always be easy. In type 1 construction, factory buildings, or housing projects for instance, where there are steel doors in steel frame set in concrete walls, we may have very little indication of what lies beyond the door. This is where reconnaissance from a member outside may be very helpful.
- 2nd Try before you pry. #1 explains why this procedure is 2nd. This is not simply to determine if the door is locked or not. When you determine that the door is locked you can push on the top and bottom to help find where the door is locked. You may also be able to feel if more than 1 lock is engaged, giving the door a push and a good shake will help with these things. It may also help you determine further what conditions are behind the door.
- 3rd don't overlook the obvious. A window light next to the door may allow you to reach in and unlock it. Remember if we have serious fire behind it, this will also allow for fire spread. Is there a knoxbox or other security device at the door. Is there a key on the apparatus for the lock box?
- 4th try to use the door the occupants use. We want to do this for a couple of reasons. When searching, particularly for adults, remember people are creatures of habit. They may be trying to escape and be right behind the door. Doors that are not used for everyday use, may have extremely tough security (drop bars, floor buttresses) that can slow you down. It may have furniture up against it, blocking it from opening. In a commercial occupancy storage or equipment may be against it. Look for indications of use both at the floor in front of the door and at the door, scuff and scratch marks from keys, a welcome mat etc.
- 5th: Maintain the integrity of the door. This is vitally important especially when dealing with multiple dwellings or when firefighter crews are above our position. Haphazardly crashing a door that we do not have control of can place firefighters and civilians above our position in mortal danger. A short rope or tool to pull a door closed after forcing is good to use to control the flow of fire, heat, and smoke from the doorway. This simple lapse has cost firefighters their lives. At times, such as in a hi-rise fire, a company may have to delay the opening of a door for quite some time to allow the evacuation of the stairway above.
These "rules" or procedures will help you do the increasingly difficult job of forcible entry better. They are basic tenets that should be thought about in every FE job you encounter. Next time we will talk about forcible entry size-up. Till then as always stay safe.