The Fire Scene: The Most Versatile Tools on the Rig

Sept. 1, 2019
Chief John Salka explains how the axe and Halligan can be utilized in many situations.

The axe and the Halligan (the irons) have been around for a long time and have become the most commonly used and versatile tools on any fire department apparatus. Just look around any fire scene and you will probably see more firefighters carrying one or both of these tools than any other piece of equipment.

Both the axe and the Halligan have evolved from earlier versions, but the current design of both tools make them quite useful and practical for numerous tasks. They can be easily “married” and carried together with one hand, which also allows the free hand to be used to carry additional equipment and climb ladders. Let’s take a look at some of the many jobs that can be undertaken with the irons.

From the (roof)top

Obviously, the axe can be used to cut or chop. Modern-day firefighters most often use a power saw for roof-cutting jobs, but sometimes the saw malfunctions and other times the slope of the roof requires the use of the axe to cut a hole. Usually, the roof sheathing is cut and removed first and then a second cutting operation works on the wood roofing material.

When working on sloped roofs, the axe can be driven into the surface to provide an additional foothold beyond the ladder that a firefighter may be working off. If the tool is driven in deeply, it will hold a firefighter’s weight securely while they reach with a saw or other tool to complete an operation.

When cutting a roof with the saw or the axe, the Halligan can be used to quickly remove the center of the cut. By simply driving the point of the Halligan into the material to be removed, preferably near the cut, the Halligan can be smartly pulled and lifted, pulling the roof sheathing right up. Additional layers of material can be removed in a similar manner.

Opening acts

One of the most basic tasks that can be completed with the irons is forcible entry of doors, both inward and outward opening. When performing basic forcible entry, the Halligan is held with the fork, adz or point on the selected location and the axe becomes the striking tool. Remember to equip your firefighters with the “heavy axe,” not the lightweight 6-pound standard version.

When forcing an inward opening wooden door, the point of the Halligan can be driven into the door jamb, generally above the lock or doorknob. This action places the adz flat against the door. The firefighter can then exert downward pressure at the fork end of the tool, which causes the adz to press against and into the door, which will force the door open.

On an outward opening door, the adz end of the Halligan can be driven into the vertical slot that is visible between the edge of the door and the jamb it is closed against. The shaft of the tool should be across the surface of the door. By pushing down on the fork end of the shaft and pulling the tool slightly outward, the door will open.

Breakthrough performance

When forcing double hung windows from either inside or outside, the fork of the Halligan can be driven between the bottom of the window and the sill it is resting on. Once that is accomplished, the adz end can be forced downward to break the latch or other securing device holding the window closed.

When working on a flat roof building, a firefighter can vent the top-floor windows using a Halligan and a utility rope. The rope is secured to the tool by either tying a secure knot or attaching a snap hook to a connection point on the tool. The firefighter then positions themselves above the window to be vented and, after determining the correct distance to the window, the tool is tossed out and swings into and vents the window.

The axe can also be used to break through walls and other surfaces. Using the back of the axe, the same surface that is used to strike the Halligan when forcing a door, the axe can be swung into concrete block walls, brick walls, glass block and even at the base of posts and poles that need to be removed. It is arduous work, but once the initial opening is made, enlarging it becomes a little easier and faster.

These are just a few of the tactics that can be completed using these most versatile tools.

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