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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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Learning Moments & A Forcible Entry Challenge

One of the things we always talk about regarding staying “combat ready” is using every opportunity as a learning/teaching moment.  We have an opportunity on every routine run to look at the buildings in our response area and size-up their challenges.  This allows us to think about solutions in advance.  The more of these ideas (tools) you have in your brain (toolbox) makes it more likely you’ll have the “right sized wrench” to fit the problem when you encounter it in stressful conditions during a fire.

During a medical run on the engine is exactly when we noticed these doors in an apartment building.  Neither the gate or the door is atypical for our area, but the combination of the two inside the building is unusual for us.  These gates are typically found on either the front or rear doors of many of our residences, but to find them inside an apartment building with enclosed stairs is unusual.  The gates themselves are not difficult to force, they are secured by a standard deadbolt with about a 1 throw.  Under normal circumstances, setting the adze above or below the lock and first crushing up and down then pulling the fork end out toward the lock side generally opens these fairly quickly.  However many firefighters still like to approach these with a saw, which obviously would not work well inside the building under fire conditions.


 What adds to the further uniqueness/challenge of this combination is the swing of the gates.  You can see in the pictures that in two of the apartments the lock side of the gate is against a right-angle wall.  Think for a moment about how this would impair your ability to force the door… You may think you would still be able to set the adze appropriately and crush/gap, however these gates have a strip of metal that covers the gap between the gate and the frame when closed.  This can be see in the picture below with the deadbolt extended.  That strip of metal is as wide as the throw of the deadbolt.  It’s a weak piece of metal, but to defeat it you would need to slide the adze in from the far side of the lock side of the gate, and in this scenario the wall would stop you from being successful.  Further, even if you got the adze into place, when you went to pull the fork end toward the lock side the Halligan would quickly contact the wall, reducing your leverage and drastically increasing the amount of force it would take to open the door (as a result of moving the fulcrum).

So what would you do?  My approach would be the hinges.  I’ve found the hinges on these types of doors to consistently be a weak point.  There is usually enough space between the frame and gate to just place the adze enough without even striking the Halligan so that a gapping (up/down) force can be applied to the hinge.  This typically breaks the welds and maybe with a little outward pull on the fork the hinge is done.  Work from top to bottom, see the video below.


Rocket science?  Absolutely not.  When you see this in plain daylight and have a clear moment to think about the challenges and solutions, the door’s weaknesses are easily found.  But this is the importance of taking the time after routine runs, during on-the-air inspections, or otherwise to have a teaching/learning moment.  Talk these ideas out with yourself, your crew.  The more time you spend preparing for the fire, the better you’ll perform at the fire.


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

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New UL Study Reinforces Sound Old Fire Tactics

I can be a pretty skeptical guy when it comes to new studies and ideas in the fire service.  That’s because it seems that lately our profession tries to solve “hands-on problems” with fancy new catch-phrases rather than firefighting skill.  So when I read and watched the recently released “Impact of Ventilation on Fire Behavior in Legacy and Contemporary Residential Construction” released by Underwriter’s Laboratories I was on watch for what “zany solution” they were going to have for our “modern fire problem”.  I was pleasantly surprised.

The study was released in December 2010 and I’ve heard quite a bit about it in the background of the fire service.  This study has been referenced in a lot of circles recently.  One “fire chief” tried to even use it to say we shouldn’t fight fires interior anymore (he must’ve not read the same piece I read).  Not wanting to remain uninformed, I took a look…  For all those who don’t like reading 400 page reports, I suffered for you.  And here’s the FIREMAN’s version:


The study compared a series of residential fires in a 50’s-60’s construction style 1-story house of 1,200 square feet with a “modern” 3,200 square foot 2 story house.   These are those new houses we hear about being so different in “today’s fires”, referenced by many who advocate we completely change our approach to firefighting.

Now I was not one of the scientists on the study, but I did look at it fairly closely and here are my take home thoughts on what it means for fighting fires in “today’s fires”:

  1. Coordinate ventilation with hoseline advancement, including forcing doors that feed the fire area.
  2. Get a hoseline on the seat of the fire quick.
  3. VES is a great technique.
  4. Closing interior doors saves civilians and firefighters.
  5. No smoke showing means NOTHING.

That’s it?  Yeah – pretty much, at least from my perspective.  Now there’s a lot of “why” that supports those conclusions.  But what shocked me there is – did you hear anything NEW?  I didn’t.  No new safety vests, no blitz-fires, no buzz terms.  Coordinate engine & truck work, get a line in place fast, and use good techniques to isolate and rescue.  Sounds like the same things the “old school” fire service has preached for decades!

So what’s the problem?

The problem is the same thing I started this article with:  these days we’d rather get a new colored vest, or practice taking blood pressures, or use some fancy multi-syllable phrase than do what this study supports:  GET GOOD AT OFFENSIVE FIREFIGHTING.  What do I mean?  Here are some buzz-words I think we ought to be practicing, and this fancy 400-page study supports:

–  “Running Hoselines” – that’s a geographical term in my area for stretching and operating interior attack lines.  How often to your firefighters pull lines?  I’d bet you many firefighters haven’t pulled a line off in a “non-parking-lot” scenario in the past year.  THAT’S A BREAD & BUTTER SKILL!  Do they just know the crossly or can they extend and adapt to various scenarios with the precision of a offensive football line under the 2-minute warning?  What is your fire department’s benchmark time for:  from arrival having to firefighters stretch a 1.75″ line to the front door and be masked up and ready to enter the fire area?  Based on a survey of YouTube I don’t think many departments have ANY such benchmark.  This study says you have between 100 and 200 seconds to get water on the fire after ventilation occurs.  That means you ventilating, or the fire ventilating the windows for you.  How good are your back up firefighters?  How well do you chase kinks?  Poor performance with either of those will drastically delay your fire attack and your flow.

You have 100-200 seconds after ventilation to put the fire out or suffer rapid fire growth.

–  “Coordinated Ventilation” – a concept that many departments struggle with.  This was a no-brainer “back in the day”.  We need to spend more time training on coordinating the location and timing of ventilation.  This study clearly showed the impact of ventilating in the wrong time or in the wrong place.  Ventilation should be timed with the knowledge that you only have 100-200 seconds after to get water on the fire before the fire will rapidly grow.  The best way we can do this is “run scenarios”.  Look at fire pictures with your crew.  Where would you ventilate? When? What would be the challenges?  How about coordinating with the line?  You can just wait and see what happens when you get a fire, or you can take a few minutes to TALK FIRE and PREPARE so you’ll KNOW what’s going to happen.

– “Vent, Enter, Search” – this study also clearly showed that these fires were survivable for civilians who were laying on the floor in just about every room of the house except for the fire room.  Closing the door made things even better.  Keeping this in mind, along with the rapid growth of fire if water is not supplied, further supports the efficiency of Vent, Enter, Search technique in rescuing civilians. Particularly where a larger square foot home delays searches done with the conventional “left right” patterns.  Some advocate it should be “Vent, Enter, Isolate, Search” – maybe, but when I first learned VES, and every time I’ve taught it, closing the door has ALWAYS been the first action after you enter.  Maybe some people were just teaching it wrong…

–  “Isolate and flow water” – In trouble?  Either get out, isolate yourself (close a door), or flow water.  This study supports the tenability of firefighters when we knock down fire with a hoseline or isolate ourselves from the fire until the fire is knocked or we can obtain an exit.

– “Nothing Showing Means Nothing” – Among others, I’ve said it for years.  Three of the worst fires of my career started out as “nothing showing”.  That’s when everyone let’s their guard down, doesn’t want to lay lines, leaves their tools behind, and moves slow.  When you have fire showing – you know its a fire.  When you have nothing showing – THE FIRE WILL CATCH YOU OFF GUARD.  This study reinforces that with our modern construction, it is quite likely that a good fire will show nothing to the outside until it is ventilated.  KEEP YOUR GUARD UP – IT’S THE FIRE OF YOUR CAREER UNTIL PROVEN OTHERWISE.

In Conclusion:

There’s a lot more to it than that, and if you’ve got about an hour the video on it is worth watching.  But the take home here is NOT that we need to re-invent the fire service.  It seems to me that often we’d rather float lofty ideas in the air conditioning then get out there and WORK at improving our bread & butter firefighting skills.  Not running much fire?  The need is even greater.  We need to go back to practicing the tried & true skills of coordinated engine/truck work, rapid hoseline advancement, and targeted search.  Stop creating fancy buzz terms and get out their and train.  Think fire, talk fire, run through scenarios.  Stay sharp.  Stay COMBAT READY.

Referenced Study information:

UL | Impact of Ventilation on Fire Behavior in Legacy and Contemporary Residential Construction

Video Summary of Report (70 minutes)

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Posted by | Posted in Blog, Combat Ready, Engine Company, Truck Company | Posted on 29-11-2011

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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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Helmet Cam Training Video: Removing Window Mounted AC Units During Ventilation

Here is the latest in our Voiceover Training Tips Video Series” straight from the fireground to your computer screen. In this video Traditions Training Instructor Joe Brown takes us through some of his thoughts and actions when approaching a window mounted air conditioning unit during ventilation. The fire is on the second floor of a 2-story brick end-of-the-row home, Joe is part of the Outside Vent Team on DCFD Truck 17 and his actions are in conjunction with the Interior Search Team and Suppression Teams. As you watch the video think about what your actions may have been and how they might vary with different building constructions in your District. Leave us some feedback and open some discussion at your firehouse kitchen table or computer screen. As always, stay safe out there.


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Posted by | Posted in Blog, fire-rescue-topics, firefighting-operations, fires, Tips & Skills, Training Resources, training-development, Truck Company, videos | Posted on 26-01-2011

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"Standby to Copy…" – Making the Window a Door

Turning the “window into a door” is an important operational and safety concept that we preach every chance we get.  A few more seconds at the window can drastically increase ventilation and provide an egress point that will allow a firefighter to get himself out of trouble. In this edition of “Standby to Copy”, Chief Kelleher discusses the need to make the window into a door.

"how am I supposed to get out?"

“Standby to Copy” is an informal newsletter produced by TT instructor Chief Tony Kelleher of the Kentland VFD, providing operational tips to companies that operate in the Prince George’s County Fire Department.  While some of these tips reference things that are specific to the operations of PGFD companies, they share some great thoughts that are easily applied to any department.  They’re a great quick read and good for a conversation starter around the kitchen table.  As such, we’ll be cross-publishing these newsletters here for your enjoyment…

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Posted by | Posted in Blog, Combat Ready, command-leadership, Commentary, fire-rescue-topics, firefighter-safety-health, firefighting-operations, RIT / Survival, Tips & Skills, training-development, training-fire-rescue-topics, Truck Company | Posted on 19-12-2010

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Watch Your Step on the Roof!

Nighttime operations on the rooftop have many inherent dangers.   With smoke perhaps even further reducing our visibility, we must use eve more caution.  This photo is of the top floor roof area between two rowhomes in DC.

Note the gap between the two houses.  Remember that while the fronts are often even, the backs are often staggered.  WATCH YOUR STEP.  Carry a big light, and have it on.  Check the area you’re about to step on with your hook BEFORE you commit your weight to it.

Remember – you can’t un-fall.

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Posted by | Posted in Blog, Combat Ready, Commentary, fire-rescue-topics, firefighter-safety-health, firefighting-operations, Tips & Skills, training-development, training-fire-rescue-topics, Truck Company | Posted on 17-12-2010

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Challenges of Building Height Differences

Most firemen are familiar with the concept that buildings may be of different heights in the rear than in the front – for example the 2 story house that is 3 stories in the rear because of the walk out basement.  This is an important operational issue.  It can effect what floor firefighters think they are operating on.  Confusion about this and miscommunication can lead to hoseline placement or ventilation in the wrong spot.  Many of us have only thought about this situation in terms of the building that is taller in the REAR and shorter in the FRONT.  But what about the opposite?  A fire the other night highlighted some of these challenges…

A “triple-local” (3E, 1T, BFC) were dispatched to investigate a report of smoke in the area.  The first in truck found heavy smoke coming from the 1st floor of a 3 story middle-of-the-row building.  The first floor was a church and it appeared that apartments/offices were the upper two floors.  Exposure’s B and D were both attached 2 story rowhouses (residential).  The box alarm was filled and as the 2nd due truck’s barman (forcible entry FF) my job was to insure that access was available for the 2nd due engine to access the basement from side C.  On the way to the fire I had heard the first engine report fire on the first floor of a church.  Coming down the rear alley I observed a decent amount of smoke coming up the stairwell (about 10 steps) to the basement.  From side C it was 2 stories and all looked like residential rowhouses to me.  After donning my mask and forcing the door, I made my way into what I believed was the basement.  Smoke was to the floor.  I assumed I was in the basement and with that level of smoke that there must be fire in the basement.  Then I encountered the officer from the 1st in engine who was looking for the basement.  We had some miscommunication because I thought we were IN the basement, which he was still looking for.  So now we had to search around and make sure that there wasn’t a basement, so we could verify that the fire had not come from below.

It took a few minutes to establish that we were both on the first floor.  What I had descended 10 steps to access from side C had been entered via the street-level on side A – we were all on the first floor, but from the rear it appeared to be the basement.  The B & D exposures were both 2 story row’s that sat up on grassy hills.  For the fire building, the grassy hill had been dug out and a full extra story built in. 

Nothing bad happened, so I apologize if this is all anti-climatic.  But it highlighted an important point – height discrepancies can be on either side.  Most of the time it seems like the rear is taller than the front, but in this case it was the opposite.  Had the fire not been more serious, this miscommunication could have resulted in some operational hiccups at least, or much worse…

Get out in your area and look at your buildings.  When, like this fire, you encounter something unique – SHARE IT.   If you find yourself in a similar situation, make sure that the reality of the situation is CLEARLY RELAYED TO ALL COMPANIES ON THE FIREGROUND.  And a great job to those on the box, good stop.

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Posted by | Posted in Blog, Combat Ready, Commentary, Company News, Engine Company, fire-rescue-topics, firefighter-safety-health, firefighting-operations, fires, Tips & Skills, training-development, training-fire-rescue-topics | Posted on 15-12-2010

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"Standby to Copy…" – Covering the Rear

“Standby to Copy” is an informal newsletter produced by TT instructor Chief Tony Kelleher of the Kentland VFD, providing operational tips to companies that operate in the Prince George’s County Fire Department.  While some of these tips reference things that are specific to the operations of PGFD companies, they share some great thoughts that are easily applied to any department.  They’re a great quick read and good for a conversation starter around the kitchen table.  As such, we’ll be cross-publishing these newsletters here for your enjoyment…

This posts topic is on “covering the rear” of a structure for size-up, engine company, and truck company operations.  Grab a cup of coffee, check it out and let us know your thoughts.  What are your departments policies on “covering the rear”??

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Posted by | Posted in administration-leadership, Blog, Combat Ready, command-leadership, Company News, fire-rescue-topics, firefighter-safety-health, firefighting-operations, fires, Incident Command, Tips & Skills, training-development, training-fire-rescue-topics | Posted on 10-12-2010