The Halligan: “The Maximum in Utility, Efficiency and Speed”

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Introduced in 1948, the halligan tool found ready acceptance within a few years. See Fire Engineering’s September 1941 notice of Hugh A. Halligan’s promotion (“Halligan Deputy Commissioner”), the March 1948 story on its introduction (“New Multi-Use Forcible Entry Tool”), the July 1950 item on his recognition by Boston firefighters (“Chief Hugh Halligan Honored”), and the February 1953 notice of a proposed bill mandating that Massachusetts police cruisers carry the tool (“Halligan Tool Gets Nod”), all HERE.

Below, FE contributor Mike Ciampo offers some more background.

The Halligan Tool and Hugh Halligan

When we think about the fire service and its evolution, we often look at certain things that had a vital impact on our tactical and safety performances. For example, the evolution of the self-contained breathing apparatus and today’s bunker gear, two vital pieces of equipment, has allowed us to better combat fire and hazardous conditions. When firefighters talk about tools, the halligan inevitably comes up. This forcible entry tool—created by a firefighter for firefighters—is perhaps the most widely used on firegrounds across the country today. Of course, manufacturers have updated, tweaked, and restructured it, but it still has the three major components of the fork, the pike, and the adz.

Hugh A. Halligan (1897-1987) was a firefighter with the FDNY for 43 years (1916-1959); he rose through the ranks from firefighter to first deputy commissioner. Chief Halligan was deeply concerned about creating a lighter and safer tool.  At that time, firefighters were using a “claw tool” to force open doors, but numerous injuries resulted when the ax hit the rounded bow of the hook end of the tool.  The ax would slide quickly to the side and hit the member’s arm or fingers. The Kelly tool was also used in FDNY, but it wasn’t the answer to all their needs. 

Chief Halligan began a project to design a tool; he came up with one which had three workable ends (adz, pike, and fork),  all of which could be driven by the ax. History has it that Chief Halligan started a mill and began producing these tools himself. He was a deeply religious man. On the fork of each original halligan tool, you would see his signature written in script on one prong and “AM t DG” on the other. The initials in Latin stood for “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam” or “For the Greater Glory of God.”  The small “t” in the center was supposed to symbolize a cross.  Hugh was a devoted firefighter who often traveled to other departments on his own time to deliver the tool and teach the members how to use it.

As can be seen in the pages from Fire Engineering, the city of Boston was the first to purchase and place the tool on its apparatus. In 1950, Boston firefighters presented Chief Halligan with a certificate of merit “for his vision and ingenuity in developing an all-purpose tool, The Halligan Tool, which renders the maximum in utility, efficiency and speed and to Fire service operations involving forcible entry, emergency demolition and overhauling.” 

Unfortunately, because of a conflict with New York City laws, the FDNY couldn’t purchase the tool until the legal issues had been resolved. While those issues were being worked out, numerous fire companies went directly to Chief Halligan’s home and bought their own tools to place on their apparatus, using their own money.  At that time, the tool cost about $38.

The value of the original halligan tool can’t be understated—it was a clear improvement over the tools used before and was superior when it had to “be used for cutting, lifting, twisting, prying and wedging.”  Even as the article stated back then, it enables firefighters to this day to lift skylights and scuttles and force doors and locks from residential to commercial occupancies.  Although the tool may have been retrofitted or redesigned by many manufacturers, its basic concept of three workable ends continues to uphold its value to the fire service. In addition, it has help countless numbers of firefighters do battle on the fireground and emergency scene every day.


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