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Commercial Storefront FE: Don’t Just Break the Glass

These common doors may have a variety of seen or unseen reinforcements.

While it can safely be said that every response area in this country has unique challenges, the commercial storefront is one that is present in almost all areas.  Forcible entry into these buildings is not necessarily difficult, but present some unique considerations and thinking points.

Just break the glass.  That seems to be a lot of firefighter’s first thought on getting inside.  This simplistic approach will certainly create an opening from the outside to the inside, but not necessarily the way we want.  Consider the following:

  • It may not be glass.  In many areas it will be Plexiglas, lexan, plastic, or similar materials.
  • It may be reinforced by either impregnated or aftermarket “chicken wire”, have metal strips spaced across, or have other security measures to prevent you from getting in even if the glass is broken.
  • You still have to content with the crossbar or panic bar, which adds additional time and can be more difficult to remove than it looks.  You will likely end up having to contend with the scenario of eager FF’s wanting to crawl in under the panic bar – an obvious FF safety concern.
  • You will still have the lip of the door frame around the opening.  This will likely still contain glass shards that can easily rupture a hoseline.  It can also create a trip hazard that may delay rapid egress should conditions deteriorate.  This occurred in a similar scenario recently resulting in critical burn injuries to several firefighters who were unable to quickly exit when a “dog pile” occurred at the exit.

    Even the door is telling you not to try…

For all the discussion points on the potential hazards and pitfalls of “just breaking the glass”, probably the most compelling reason not to break the glass is just that if you have practice and plans in the proper techniques it is simply faster and easier to just open the door.  Take a look at the following videos:



It’s easy to see that whether you want to cut the lock or go through-the-lock, either are quite fast and eliminate all of the possible problems of breaking the glass.  Consider these options next time you are presented with the glass commercial storefront.  Discuss this issue with your crew members and practice on the techniques for defeating the “Adams Rite Lock” both manually and with a saw.  Stay safe, and stay Combat Ready.

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Posted by | Posted in Blog, Combat Ready, Tips & Skills, videos | Posted on 17-12-2012

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Extending Leverage on Outward Doors

It’s common that residential buildings will feature mostly inward opening doors, while commercial buildings will feature more outward opening doors.  While the the technique for outward opening doors may be, I won’t say easier but more straightforward than an inward door, they may actually require a little more “force”.  Outward doors on commercial buildings are likely to be set in brick or concrete, consist of strong metal doors and frames, and may have multiple or higher security locking devices.

The “power position” on an outward door comes when you set the adze fully BEHIND the door.  It’s the same idea as wrapping your fingers around something fully, you’ll get the most pull.  Getting the adze behind the door gives you a few advantages:

  • 180-degrees of leverage, provided there are no obstacles.
  • In addition to pulling outward, you can work up and down using the adze to crush the door and reduce the depth the lock is set in it’s keeper.
  • You can perform several “tricks” to extend your leverage.

It is also important to set the adze FULLY behind the door – as deep as you can get it.  This moves the fulcrum closer to the door and makes causes the firefighter to do less work to exert more leverage.


There are several methods to extend leverage on an outward door, but one is well illustrated at this box alarm in Prince George’s County, MD.  In the rear of this commercial building, firefighters encounter a metal door in metal frame, set in brick with a couple locks.  The irons firefighter from TL-33 (Kentland VFD) has already properly set his adze fully behind the door but more leverage is needed.  A few things are worth noting here:

  • The irons FF does not “spin wheels” – after a few tries he quickly realizes that plan “A” isn’t working and that we need to try something else.
  • The irons FF does not panic or get frustrated, I’ve seen frustrated FF’s in this scenario pull the bar completely out of the door which of course is in no way helpful.
  • Note the fluid teamwork with minimal communication between the members of company 33 an 37 (Ritchie VFD).   Due to previous inter-departmental training, they know what to expect of each other.  The left hand knows what the right needs before it even asks.

Just like many forcible entry skills, this option is not available to you if you haven’t purchased the right equipment, prepared it properly, and trained on it -not just as an individual, but as a crew.  If your partner doesn’t know what to do your knowledge is useless.  We shouldn’t have to have a lesson at the fire door – we should be able to resort to what we’ve always trained on.

In forcible entry remember – we can’t do anything else until we get inside.  Keep your skills sharp, have multiple plans, and DON’T GIVE UP!

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Posted by | Posted in Blog, Combat Ready, Tips & Skills, Truck Company | Posted on 15-10-2012

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Multiple Options are Key in Forcible Entry

Like many firefighters, I have witnessed someone at the door to the fire building repeatedly trying the same technique over and over with no success.  This is frustrating because, with the exception of some public service calls, we were not called to force the door but rather to handle the fire (or other emergency) on the other side of it.  All firefighters, regardless of position or assignment must maintain good forcible entry skills, because we can’t do our job until we get inside the door.

Over the years, forcible entry has become a speficic interest of mine.  I have had many great mentors on the topic and my own share of fireground screw ups, all of which taught me one very important fact about forcing doors of any kind:  YOU MUST HAVE MULTIPLE TECHNIQUES FOR WHEN PLAN “A” FAILS.

As an example, last month Danny Doyle and I were just outside Austin, TX working with the Round Rock Fire Department on truck company operations for the week.  Of course one of the skills was forcible entry.  Using their department’s door prop, each student forced the door numerous times.  Now each student forced the same door prop, which used the same stock of material, and forced it using the same approach.  Below is a picture of some of the metal “locks” that they forced.  What do you notice?  THEY ARE ALL DEFORMED DIFFERENTLY.

Know how you know how the door will respond? AFTER YOU'RE DONE.

It goes to show the point that 2 doors, made by the same company, installed by the same person on the same day, and locked in the same manner, will likely respond differently even when attacked with the same series of techniques.  This is just due to subtle variations in angle/placement of attack, force delivered, and probably the inherent slight variations in a piece of metal.

The take home here is that you can’t just have plan A, or just plan A & B.  You have to have C,D,E,F,G,H,I, et cetera.  Because when YOU’RE the one between the fire and the rest of the box alarm, ALL EYES ARE ON YOU and everyone is WAITING FOR YOU – it’s probably the most stressful spot on the fireground. It means we have to expect the unexpected – we have to be able to recognize when what we are doing is not working, and have another step to move onto.


In our classes we teach “troubleshooting forcible entry”.  This video is a brief demonstration of one of the students forcing a troublesome door and working through a variety of steps in order to get the door in a pretty quick timeframe.  As a disclaimer, it it not an inclusive discussion of all the skill points and tips for an inward door.  I always say that there is a list of techniques and a list of tools, all possibilities to get us through the door.  The kicker is that the list is CONSTANTLY RE-ORDERED at each fire based on asking yourself:

  • What tools do I have available?
  • What manpower do I have available?
  • What I have I already tried?

The results of thinking those questions may take what was previously #22 on your list of preferences and move it to #1 for this fire, because for instance you are by yourself and only have a Halligan bar.

Remember forcible entry is NOT AT ALL about force, it’s all about technique.

If you’d like to break some doors, we have a combination Truck Company Ops and Forcible Entry Academy class coming up in Bensalem, PA in August.  Click here for information and registration. Or we’d be happy to come to you, just email us.

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Posted by | Posted in Blog, Combat Ready, Tips & Skills, Truck Company | Posted on 04-05-2011

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Video Tip: Cutting the Adams-Rite Lock

We’ve done a bunch of talking about the Adams-Rite lock and forcing entry to storefronts, partly because it’s a forcible entry challenged found almost anywhere and everywhere.  Like all things firefighting, the key to success is having not just “Plan A” – but multiple plans.  Depending on your scenario, one may be preferable than another at one fire and less preferable at the next.

Once option for forcing entry at these fires is of course to cut the throw of the lock.  Check out this quick video tip:


  • What is your “go to” technique for these doors?  Why?
  • What circumstances would cause you to move this cutting technique to the top of the list?

Let us know your thoughts, and check out these other related articles on the topic.


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Posted by | Posted in Blog, Combat Ready, Tips & Skills, Truck Company, videos | Posted on 12-03-2011

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HUD Window Thinking and Learning from Past Fires

The term HUD Window refers to the stereotypical wooden board up frequently seen on “vacant” buildings, damaged buildings, and occasionally buildings under construction. It’s not a standardized term – I’m sure there are many regional variations. Just as there are variations in the name, there are variations in the style, construction, and manner of installation. As with all things forcible entry, a “one plan” approach is likely to fail you when the unexpected is encountered.

While out doing some district familiarization and rookie training we stopped at this house, which was the site of a recent fire. How often do you go by the address of fire you ran last tour, or the fire that the other shift went to? Unfortunately, I’ve worked in places where nobody has any interest in visiting the fire we ran last tour, or that the other shifts ran on the days off.  That’s a terrible waste of resources.  Not only is there a fire with good things to discuss, but it’s a fire that ACTUALLY HAPPENED IN YOUR AREA!  Take a minute during the day to top by and see what went down.

In our area it would not be uncommon do go back to an address a second time due to arson or careless squatters.  In this case we were able to not only to learn what to expect, and how houses in this area are being secured, but also do some rookie training and talk as a group about different ideas.

Different ideas are exactly what you’ll need for these situations. When I posted a brief pic of this house on our Facebook page the other day we had no less than 5 ideas in a few minutes. Is this something you spend time talking with your crew about, or do you just watch SportCenter all day?

There are many ways to skin this cat, but here are a few of my initial thoughts:

– As you pull up at a fire, don’t blindly run up with the same tools. Look at what you have. For example, as the OV FF here I would be thinking about bringing a chainsaw due to multiple boarded up windows – that’s not a usual tool for me in that position.  I would make two cuts – one each as close to the outside of the frame as I could judge.

– I’d also consider a short ladder (10′ or less) to provide me with better access to these shoulder height windows (see this idea in use in Joe Brown’s OV video here).  These 2×4 braces were also nailed into the sides of the frames, that may limit the effectiveness of certain removal techniques.

– As the irons FF or officer, i might think to tell my OV to start right away on the windows as we head to the door. Given the lack of an outside 2×4 here, I think we can make a relief strike just below the bolt heads with the 8lbs axe and just drive the bolts through to make access to the front door.  Remember that YOU might have a plan and a thought, but the effectiveness of the entire CREW will improve if everyone knows it – COMMUNICATE.  Ideally, PLAN AHEAD.

Be prepared for surprises.  You may assume by the presence of the HUD coverings over the door area that there is no additional challenge, however a peak inside allowed us to see that the original security gate was still in place.  How strong is it?  Who knows, but worth being prepared for.

– Of course being the site of a previous fire, I have to consider the buildings stability. In our area, squatters and vagrants are a distinct likelihood so my intentions are to enter if at all possible.  That said, I’m paying extra attention to the floor’s stability as I move ahead.  I’m also thinking that overhaul from the previous fire has given the fire a head start into void spaces.

Additional Resources (thanks to our Facebook friends!):

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Posted by | Posted in Blog, Combat Ready, Commentary, Tips & Skills, Truck Company | Posted on 25-02-2011

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Setting Up Your Irons

In this post I’ll discuss the setup features of the irons carried at work. There are of course many different setups and modifications that can be done to this essential set of tools, and as many opinions on each. Of course ours isn’t the only way, but I’ll try to explain the thought process behind our setup… 

Different Jobs, Different Halligans...

 Some modifications are more well suited to certain tasks. If your company uses riding assignments, you can match up the right Halligan for the anticipated task. I talked about this idea in a previous post, here. Sometimes I feel like fireman sometimes adopt a concept (or modification) just because its the hot new thing and not because an evaluation of their job reveals it would be useful.


The Axe…

An 8lbs axe has been my personal striking tool of choice ever since I learned about using it as a wedge. As Dan Troxell, my captain and also a TT instructor says, the sledge is a “one-dimensional tool”. I have taken advantage of the axes versatility on both inward and outward doors, both in a team or alone ,and have never found myself wishing i had a sledgehammer.

This axe is 8lbs, the extra 2lbs over the standard 6 provides significant extra “oomph” without being unwieldy to carry. On the underside of the blade we have ground a few indentations to allow the Halligan to marry close. Keeping the handles of the axe and Halligan close makes for an easy grip. 

I do like having an extra grip made with some clothesline and lacrosse tape on the bottom 3rd of the axe handle. 

The Halligan… 

Starting at the forks, the tips of the forks are filed (not grinded) to a smooth thin curve. Many stock Halligans come with a small ridge on the beveled side of the tips. Many times I have seen that ridge catch on the leading edge of a door while forcing, effectively stopping progress. There is also a “set line” ground and marked with a dab of red paint. This is useful for judging the set depth, especially for newer members. Of course the fork’s shoulders have been flattened out to be available as a striking surface. 

On the shaft, you’ll see that we have a “grip” in the middle 3rd. While not my personal preference, I’m not the only one who uses this bar. I’m usually content with the natural octagonal grip provided by the forged design of a good Halligan. I see many Halligans that have grip top to bottom. To me that eliminates the ability to slide a striking tool down the shaft onto the shoulders. However it seems that having the grip in the middle third has been good compromise – it adds a little grip when venting a window or opening up and seems to stay out of the way of the shoulders. 


The head of the tool is kept clean and smooth. On the adz, the “blade” is kept thin – not like a knife, but free of ridges like we discussed on the fork tips. I would like to add a little width to the adz, maybe 1/2 inch (for extra leverage while gapping) but haven’t gotten around to it on this bar yet. The adz has a depth mark to help gauge when the adz has been set to the doorstop on an outward door, so that the door doesn’t get skinned by prematurely pulling out or down. 

Wrapping Up…

So thats a quick rundown of our setup and why, as I finish a morning cup of coffee after shift change. It is important that we know not only WHAT we have, but also WHY. There are many potential setups and modifications. Evaluate what each position does at a fire and what setup would be most beneficial. For example, when operating as the hook firefighter (basically our OVM) I carry a 6′ Halligan hook and a bar. We’ll make that setup the topic of a future post. 

So with that all said, whats your setup – AND WHY?

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Posted by | Posted in Blog, Combat Ready, Commentary, fire-rescue-topics, firefighting-operations, Tips & Skills, training-development, training-fire-rescue-topics, Truck Company | Posted on 01-02-2011

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Test Your Hydra-Ram!

As many of you know, the hydra-ram is often not my first choice for forcible entry, but it’s definitely a frontline tool with purpose.  And like any mechanical tool, it’s prone to failure…  Last week at while teaching forcible entry at the training academy we had three separate failures of hydra-rams:

  1. One was a rupture of the body resulting in complete loss of hydraulic fluid.
  2. Another locked in the completely extended position
  3. And another would not stay open when pumped because the valve was broken.

The take home point is:  WE HAVE TO TEST OUR TOOLS BEFORE WE GET TO THE FIRE DOOR.  The hydra-ram is one of the tools that needs to be checked daily on the rig, but many problems with hydra-rams are not discovered until the tool is placed under load.  A simple way to test the tool is to find something heavy around the firehouse and put the ram to the test! In this example, I simply used our dumpster out back.  The tool is pumped to full extension, lifting the load, and left to sit for a minute to insure all’s well – then released.  Should any problems arise, we can get a replacement or fix the tool before it’s needed on a job.

These failures should also further remind us of the importance of maintaining your forcible entry skills with the irons – both 1 and 2 firefighter techniques.  Remember – when the door is locked, no interior operations can begin till it’s opened… Everyone’s counting on you, be prepared.

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Posted by | Posted in Blog, Combat Ready, fire-rescue-topics, firefighting-operations, Tips & Skills, training-development, training-fire-rescue-topics, Truck Company | Posted on 07-08-2010

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Thru the Lock with your Channel Locks

We’ve talked a few times on here about going thru-the-lock on Adams-Rite style locks.  I think this is an important skill as this style of lock is found on almost every glass commercial storefront in the nation, so it’s something found in almost everyone’s first due.  Further, due to various associated challenges we’ve discussed in past posts, I think that going thru-the-lock in this scenario is likely our fastest option and will ultimately provide us with the most egress.  You can see some of the reasons I make this statement in this previous post.

Adams-Rite locks are found on almost any storefront. Remember additional security may also be present.

This video demonstrates using a pair of modified channel locks to remove the lock cylinder and open the lock (click the link to learn how to make your own).  Of course a K-tool, A-tool, or other lock puller could be used to remove the cylinder more quickly as well.

For a picture step-by-step on unlocking these with your key tool or channel locks, check out our previous post here.  And let us know – what are your experiences and thoughts with this scenario?


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Posted by | Posted in Blog, fire-rescue-topics, firefighting-operations, Tips & Skills, training-development, training-fire-rescue-topics, Truck Company, Uncategorized, videos | Posted on 27-07-2010

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Tower Ladder Class in Johnston, IA Reinforces Key Point on Knowing Your (and their) Aerial Apparatus!

Last weekend TT instructors Scott Kraut, Mike Stothers, Joe Brown, and Nick Martin headed west to the metro Des Moines area for a Tower Ladder Operations course with the Johnston Fire Department.  The two-day program brought attendees from all over Polk County to talk about truck work and the capabilities of various apparatus.  All kinds of topics were covered, from forcible entry to ventilation to designing riding assignments.  Sunday brought 40 students and 4 different styles of aerial apparatus for an awesome day of hands-on training at a great acquired building.

Click here for more photos…

One of the goals for the weekend was to allow attendees to work with and understand the various capabilities of different aerial apparatus.  While many departments only own one style of truck, it’s imperative that departments understand the capabilities and limitations of any style of aerial apparatus that might respond into their town. Rear-mount, mid-mount, tiller, tower, aerial – they all have specifics as to their positioning needs and use in various scenarios.  The time to find those things out is NOT the fireground – if you don’t know these things in advance, you can’t POSSIBLY put the rig to the best use when it gets to your fire! It was great to work with a forward-thinking, pro-active group of enthusiastic firefighters.  Thanks to the firefighters of Polk County for your hospitality and we’ll look forward to seeing you again!

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Posted by | Posted in administration-leadership, Blog, command-leadership, Company News, fire-rescue-topics, firefighter-safety-health, firefighting-operations, news, training-development, training-fire-rescue-topics, Truck Company | Posted on 05-07-2010

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Forcing Recessed Outward-Opening Doors

While drilling with my company on forcing outward-opening doors the other day, we discovered a problem that is unique to a situation where the door is recessed in a pocket and not flush with the door opening, and is secured with a surface-mounted lock (photo 1)…

Click the link to see the problem & solution…


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Posted by | Posted in Blog, fire-rescue-topics, firefighting-operations, Tips & Skills, training-development, training-fire-rescue-topics, Truck Company | Posted on 21-06-2010