The Fire Scene: The K-Tool: Take It With You Every Time

We’ve talked about through-the-lock forcible entry before, but a recent discussion I had with a friend who is a deputy chief with the FDNY raised some issues that I’d like to share with you.

As we all know, forcible entry is a vast subject. There is conventional forcible entry, which basically is breaking your way through a door using a variety of tools, most frequently the “irons,” or ax and halligan. Then there is through-the-lock forcible entry, where you pull or remove the lock cylinder and actually trip or open the lock, almost as if you had the key. I want to take a look at the K-Tool and talk about how helpful it can be to a team of firefighters trying to get into a secured burning building.

The first question I have to ask is “Where is the K-Tool on your company apparatus?” Of all the features and technical information you need to know about the K-Tool, this is one of the most important. The reason I say this is that many, and I should probably say most, fire companies carry the K-Tool in the apparatus cab. Some leave it lying on the dash; others leave it in the glove box or a compartment. Let me get right to the point here. This is a mistake!

If your K-Tool is stored on the apparatus dash, that is exactly where it is going to be when you need it. Nobody is thinking about forcible entry while climbing off the apparatus, so the K-Tool is left wherever it is stored. This improper storage almost guarantees that you will never use the K-Tool because you don’t have it with you.

When I was a lieutenant in the FDNY, I carried a K-Tool in my turnout coat pocket. Yes, it is heavy, and yes, it wore a hole in my pocket, but I always had it with me and we used it often. I can’t tell you how many times I would arrive on the fire floor or at the door to the fire apartment and see a team of firefighters getting ready to force a substantial metal door in a metal frame with the irons. Several times, in commercial factories or storage buildings, the doors and frames were even more secure and substantial. Whenever this happened, I simply got their attention, told them I had a K-Tool and handed it over to them. With few exceptions, they switched gears, quickly reacquainted themselves with the tool and went to work. Even if I had to shout directions to them, it usually worked. Carry the K-Tool.

The second important part of K-Tool usage is training. No firefighters are going to even think about using a tool they are not familiar with. In fact, familiar isn’t good enough. Any firefighter who could be assigned forcible entry duties must be trained and capable of using the K-Tool when the situation calls for it. It is a simple and basic tool that can be used for rapid entry into areas that are locked with a round cylinder-type lock.

There are several types of locks that the K-Tool works best on: the tubular lock, the rim lock, the mortise lock and the pivoting deadbolt. When the cylinder of each of these locks is pulled with the K-Tool, simply examine the back end of the cylinder and it will indicate which of the key tools you may need to open the lock. The three basic key tools are the straight blade, which looks like a simple screwdriver blade; the square 15/32; and the bent-end key. There are techniques that also must be taught and mastered by firefighters who will be using the K-Tool. This tool, when properly used, will make some of your most difficult and challenging forcible entry situations easier. That will save time and speed up your department’s extinguishment efforts.

The lessons here are simple and few. First, make sure your truck company owns a K-Tool. I have no idea what it costs, but I know you have enough to cover the expense. Second, if you are ever going to get a chance to use a K-Tool, you must carry it. Third, your firefighters must be trained and competent in the use of this tool. Three simple suggestions that will help you perform as the true fire service professional you are. n


John J. Salka Jr. will present “5 Steps to a Safer Fireground Operation” and “Company Officers’ Fireground Scenario Workshop” at Firehouse World 2013.