Without gaining entry into a structure where a suspected or confirmed fire is, the fire cannot be located and extinguished, searches cannot be made, and extension of fire cannot be checked. There may be one or more firefighters assigned to forcing entry (commercial property), or the first firefighter to the door (residence) is expected to have the tool or tools to accomplish the task. Once upon a time the pick head axe was used on the majority of forcible entries. Today there are an assortment of tools and techniques that assist in forcing entry and the list continues to grow.
Firefighters should be proficient in the basic forcible entry skills for at least three reasons:
- The need to quickly gain entry. The majority of fire and emergency operations start at the front door. Before tactics such as search, rescue or the stretching of a hand line to the location of the fire, firefighters must first gain entry.
- Improper techniques can lead to excessive damage. A firefighter with an axe can gain entry into a residence, but why destroy a perfectly good door for a non-fire emergency? With proper training, most firefighters can open a door with a small amount of damage.
- Remember we are all professionals. Pride in our work shows pride in the department. The citizens who trust us also rely on our good judgement.
The firefighters efficiency in forcing entry depends on two factors:
– Choosing the proper tool(s) for the job and
– Using the proper technique to the component.
The need to gain access is determined by several factors.
- Is there active fire or smoke showing? Are there suspected or confirmed person(s) inside? Gaining access in a rapid and safe manner is expected in these cases.
- Is there only a report of an alarm sounding and on arrival nothing is showing? A slower but deliberate method can be used in this instance. It may even be preferable to wait for the owner to show up and they can gain access for you.
- In many commercial buildings there are Knox-Boxes installed and these should be used if available.
When the first unit arrives on scene an assessment should be made as to the need for forcible entry. Many times the front door is open already. If it is closed, is it wood or metal, is there a screen or storm door in front of it, does it swing in or out, is there a window in the door, and of course if it is closed, is it unlocked already. This assessment should be made during the size up. Once entry is made, there should be some method to ensure the door doesn’t close. I have used a smoke fan, porch chair, sprinkler wedge, or a brick from the flower bed to prop the door open.
When we leave the scene the best case scenario is that we didn’t damage the door or lock and the door can be closed and secured for the citizen. If the door had to be removed or is damaged beyond use, we should make every effort to secure the opening in some manner so the owner/occupant can feel safe inside. It also helps with our image which we cannot get enough of.
Forcible entry should not be any more of a challenge than pulling a line from the engine. Training is the first step and goes hand in hand with pre-planning, especially on the commercial buildings. When we pull up on a commercial building we should already know what we need to force entry.
Forcible entry – easy when you are ready, harder when you are not. The secret to success is to be ready.
Be safe – Everyone Goes Home…
William Jolley has 37 years of experience in the fire service with 20 of those years in a management position. William was the Fire Chief of Haines City, Florida, a city of Approximately 20,000. Prior to that William was the Assistant Chief of Saint Petersburg, Florida, where he worked for 35 years.