Using Forcible Entry to Begin Fireground Operations

Two key items to consider for entry points at structure fires in the event of a catastrophic failure of the structure: how will the company make their way out? How does the rapid intervention crew enter to facilitate rescue of the company?

Consider the door that is mostly glass. These ornate doors are found mostly on commercial occupancies, and can be constructed as tempered glass with locks directly installed in the door, or be surrounded with wooden or metal door frames that hold the lock assemblies.

Forcing these doors will require a bit more time and thought than others, for a few reasons. First, breaking the glass to gain access can add other issues to the equation: There are usually panic bars and associated hardware in these doors that have to be cleared for entry along with the glass. Secondly, broken glass remaining in the frames can cut the advancing hose into the structure, causing the line to fail. Also, controlling the door is a critical factor in controlling air flow into the structure, in the event there is a significant change in conditions (i.e., backdraft or flashover). Once the glass is gone, there is no control for the access point to limit ventilation. Studies have proven there is a direct correlation between the wide-open attack point to a reduction in time before flashover, and not being able to limit ventilation from this point can prove detrimental. Forcing these doors can cause the glass to shatter and fail; it may be beneficial to either cut the lock with a saw or find a different access point instead of taking the time to go through the lock in a glass pane door (see Photo 5).

How is the door hung? Looking at the door upon arrival, critical points can be identified. Does the door open inward or outward? Most residential dwellings have front doors that will open inward, while commercial occupancies will have doors that swing outward, allowing for rapid egress of occupants in the event of an emergency. It might be easier to remove the hinge pins on the outward swinging door to gain access than to try to force the multitude of locks on the door.

What types of locks are in the door? Being able to defeat the locking devices is the primary objective of gaining access into the structure. It is critical that the entry team “reads the door” to determine what type of locks are securing the door. Look for bolt heads, drop-bar brackets, slide-bar bolts or any other clue displayed on the outer side of the door; it may be necessary for the crew to break off the heads of the bolts that are holding these devices in place, and then let the locking assembly drop out of the way to allow access into the building (see Photo 6).

When it comes to going through the lock mechanism to gain entry, efficient companies that are well versed in “through-the-lock” skills understand the way the lock operates; this way the lock can be manipulated correctly once the tumbler is removed (see photo 7). In the case of a well-advanced fire, there may not be time to access through the lock; if the mechanism cannot be defeated quickly, then it will be necessary to find an alternative method to gain access through that door, or another point of entry may be necessary altogether.

What is needed to force the door? The crew should be coming to the entry point with the necessary tools and equipment to force entry. Knowing the door construction, type of lock involved and where the assembly will fail will determine what tools are needed to gain access. Be sure the crew comes to the door ready for anything; a good practice is to bring a strong set of irons (preferably a large Halligan and a 16-pound maul) and a hydraulic force tool (HFT). This way, the crew is better prepared for just about anything they may encounter (see Photos 8 and 9).

Along with the tools, the company needs to be well-versed in their use. Forcible entry is not solely based on strength or brute force; one must recognize that the most efficient way to use the entry tools is determined by a working knowledge of leverage and mechanical advantage, and their intended application in a given situation. Knowing how to apply the benefit that the tools incorporate is how the company successfully enters the structure.

Tactical Considerations