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People Trapped? Don’t Panic – Do Your JOB!

In general, a report of “victims trapped” should not cause any major changes in your initial operations. They may cause slight alterations – like where you take your line, which window you VES, etc.  However your plans/SOGs should already be setup assuming there are persons trapped. When added information increases the likelihood of entrapment, we should be doing what we always do – just harder and faster!

Remember, all tasks work in support of each other on a fire. Abandoning one will reak havoc on the others. The results do not improve the victims chances, and put us at greater risk. I have seen many incidents quickly go south when everyone “loses their cool” after a report of entrapment. Things later water supply, ventilation, and fire attack are abandoned because we all think we’re just going to dash in and “save the baby”. When this happens we are often unsuccessful in our firefighting efforts, the victim usually perishes, and we frequently hurt firefighters due to our scatter-brained actions. By cutting corners we LOSE, and often then find out there wasn’t anyone trapped! 

As was the case last night, reports of a victim do not mean there IS one. And no reported victims (or reports of “everyone’s out”) do not mean there ISN’T one. Deploy in response to conditions and always give any known OR unknown victim their best chance. Don’t guess on “survivability” from the front yard – you don’t know what you don’t know.  Our job is to react to conditions, not guesses, and give them a chance. As I was once taught by a veteran truck officer, they are not out until our searches SAY they are out.

Posted by Nick Martin on Monday, June 29, 2015

Great job by Columbia Fire Department 2nd shift crews last night. They demonstrated the effectiveness of these thoughts and made a rapid knockdown alongside rapid searches.


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Posted by | Posted in Blog, Combat Ready, Truck Company | Posted on 29-06-2015

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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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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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I Have Five Little Rats

Among other things, at a fire a good truck company makes a lot of additional egress points, searches, and removes any victims. Ok, so the truck has forced multiple doors, placed the aerial, has portbale ladders up, and has made windows into doors. Now we’ve found a victim. How are we bringing that victim out?

“I Have Five Little Rats” is a useful mnemonic for remembering the order of preference in our removal options – under most circumstances.

  • I – Interior Stairs. The interior steps under many circumstances are the fastest and safest means of removal. They are often the way we came in and we can’t really fall off of them. However fire conditions, the victims location, or the location of operating members may make the steps less preferable, or impossible, at some fires.
  • HHorizontal Exits. Removing the victim to another wing of the building, into a tower ladder bucket, etc.
  • F – Fire Escapes. Fire escapes seem like a great idea until we consider that they have been on the outside of the building for quite a while and we have no idea how well they’ve been maintained – they’re structural integrity could be in question, especially when we add a victim to the FF’s weight. In addition, they’re usually quite narrow, making movement of the FF and victim difficult.
  • L – Ladders. Civilians are not good with ladders. Conscious or unconscious, removing a civilian via the aerial or portable ladder will be a difficult and dangerous process for both parties.
  • R – Rope. Rope rescues from the roof or an upper floor are extremely dangerous and require immense coordination and practice. In rare scenarios, this may be the only way to save our victim and we should be practice and prepared to execute this skill, but only as a last resort.

This is just another topic that is something our shift/company/crew should discuss BEFORE the fire.  Perhaps this concept might need special modification to fit your department’s staffing, operations, or response area.  Let us know your thoughts and what YOUR plan is for removing the victim.

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Posted by | Posted in Blog, Combat Ready, Tips & Skills, Truck Company | Posted on 16-06-2011

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Forcible Entry Success Story

NOTHING makes what we do more worthwhile than hearing back that information we passed on in our programs was put to use effectively in an operational scenario. There’s a lot of effort behind the scenes in what we do, but a story like this makes every second worthwhile:

“Howdy Fellas,

My name is Johnny Davidson. I work for the Round Rock FD in Texas. Back in April we had pleasure of attending a class put on by Nick and Danny. I’ve been to a lot of rescue course’s in my career and these guys along with Traditions Training stand among the best. So here’s my short story about forcing a door after attending their class.

A few weeks after the class we were called out to a medical alarm for an elderly person who pressed their alert button and the alarm company could not get a response from the victim. On arrival we discovered all the doors & windows were locked. Out of habit I grabbed the door spreader and went to the front door. After two attempts with the door spreader we had no success. I looked at the dead bolt and it hit me like a brick. I advised my firefighter to get the “irons” of our rig. As he was striking the door, I radio our dispatch and advised them we were attempting to force the door again. My firefighter then set Halligan and I began to strike it. It was like a hot knife thru butter. The door opened and we found our patient laying on the bedroom floor semi-conscious.

After checking my run notes it took 13 seconds to get thru the door using a version of the techniques learned from Traditions Training. Thanks for giving me another tool in the tool box of knowledge.

Be safe,

Johnny Davidson

Lieutenant Rsc3/B

Round Rock Fire Department”

Thanks you, Lt. Davidson, for sharing this story with us. And thank you to everyone out there who ever let us share a skill or piece of knowledge with you – PASS IT ALL ON!

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Posted by | Posted in Blog, Tips & Skills, Truck Company | Posted on 23-05-2011

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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