There are several significant tasks that must be done within the first few minutes after the fire department arrives on the scene of a working structure fire. One of these tasks includes forcible entry; gaining access for crews to perform rescue and suppression is a high priority on the fireground. Truck companies are usually assigned this task, but the first-due engine company may find themselves making access for their initial push into the structure. There are a few considerations to make before the attack commences, to ensure the operation is rapid and efficient.
Pre-plan For Entry
Knowing the best way into the structure begins with the department pre-plan. Gathering as much information about the structure, prior to the fire, arms the incident commander with plenty of ammunition to formulate an attack. Getting into the building starts the attack.The easiest way into the building is to be invited, so to speak.
Many departments participate in the entry lock key program, commonly referred to by the trade name “Knox Box” system (see Photo 1). Having access into the building utilizing this system gets personnel and resources into the building quicker, reduces damage to the structure, and provides for a rapid suppression operation. It also adds an additional level of security, as some types allow the box to be wired into the master alarm system and notifies the police department when the box is unlocked.
If forcing entry is still necessary, consider the easiest way into the building; the easiest way may not be the most obvious way. Be sure that 360-degree pre-plan includes the point of attack, which should be the fastest, most efficient way in.
At the incident, gathering information regarding forcible entry can be broken down into five parts:
What is the occupancy? – What is the main use for the building? Does the operation of the building require significant security systems in place? Post offices, banks and medical facilities may all have areas that are fortified, requiring a more aggressive approach to gain entry.
Even residential structures may pose significant entry issues. Take for example a multiple dwelling such as an apartment complex, a hotel or even a multiple-family residential structure. The forcible entry team will have to gain entry into each exposed area, and depending on the respective occupant’s position on personal security, the crew may come across many different styles of locks in an entry door (see Photo 2).
In the case of hotels, many chains are changing over to electro-magnetic locks that are activated with a card-swipe system. These doors require a considerable amount of force, usually at more than one location on the jamb. It is much simpler for the staff to program a master swipe card for the fire department and have it accessible in an area for the company to use during an alarm. Additionally, in some cases, many of these occupancies fail-safe to the unlocked position in the event of a fire; check with these occupancies in your area to see how they react during an alarm.
Door Construction – What is the door and the jamb area made of? It is important to recognize what part of the assembly will fail during entry. Residential doors are usually wooden core doors, mounted in wood frames. In this event, the door or the frame will compromise. When gaining entry into a commercial occupancy, crews may encounter metal doors assembled in masonry walls and metal jambs. These assemblies will require a more laborious effort to gain entry. This author has even faced wooden entry doors within metal buildings. It is critical to identify the weak point of the assembly to direct the force towards (see Photo 3).
Additionally, how many doors are located at the point of entry? The entry team may come across a second door (such as in a foyer in an occupancy) that will be as significantly fortified as the first door encountered. Will this additional door cause enough of a delay that the suppression operation suffers? If so, think about finding an alternate means of entry (see Photo 4).