Tools & Equipment

The Ins and Outs of the Halligan

Article and photos by Clay Magee

When Chief Halligan quit making the halligan, the market was flooded with inferior tools. the William McLaughlin of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) saw a need for a high-quality bar, just as Chief Halligan had almost 40 years prior. This spurred his creation of the Pro-Bar, the forcible entry tool of the FDNY and many departments around the country. It also happens to be my personal favorite and the tool of choice I carry and I’m gonna tell you why.

The Ins and Out of the Halligan: Part 1: Chief and His Ugly Bar

My department, like many across the country, have a variety of halligans across our apparatus. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least three different brands of halligans on our apparatus right now. They range in size from 30 to 36 inches. In spite of this wide selection, I personally went out and bought my own. Why? Because I think it’s that important. I carry the standard 30-inch Pro-Bar. Tool selection and quality is a big deal. Just as there is the new push in departments across the country for superior hose and nozzles, there should also be a push for hand tools. If you can’t get in the building, you can’t do your job: searching for life, extinguishing fire, and salvaging the customer’s property. Every forcible entry class I teach starts off with different tool comparisons. Why? We believe it is that important. If we are teaching at a department, we always invite them to try their tools and ours by way of comparison. People have their personal favorites and the Pro-Bar is not the only tool out there to get the job done. There’s a whole other line of halligans out there I like, but that’s for another day.

Halligan size comparison

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Size: The standard halligan is 30 inches long. It comes in other sizes but I carry and recommend the 30-inch bar. Why? It is long enough to give you an increase in mechanical advantage, but short enough to do the job. You always about how important building construction and knowledge is right? Well, it even plays a part in tool selection. A lot of doors are 32 inches wide. If you buy a longer bar, say 36 inches, you’ll find yourself in a pickle real quick. With a 36-inch bar, the tool will bury out against the door frame long before you’ve completed your force on some doors. Yes, the 36-inch bar offers an increase in mechanical advantage but the limitations it places on you make anything longer than 30-inch undesirable. Photo 1 shows a 30-inch and 36-inch halligan placed against a 36-inch (35-inch interior side) door.

Pinned halligan

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Forged: The Pro-Bar is made from single piece, drop-forged steel. This means it is high in strength with little worries of breaking or bending. There are other halligan tools out there that are single piece, drop forged, such as the Akron Brass Tri Bar (old and new) and the Leatherhead Tools Leatherhead Bar. This is very important in the selection process. Other companies make the pinned variety of halligans. Remember, these are what caused McLaughlin to develop the Pro-Bar to begin with. Pinned halligans are made of three separate pieces–the shaft, the adz end, and the fork end. They are pieced together and then pinned in place (Photo 2). These have been known to break under heavy loads.

Pro-bar vs other halligan

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Pro-Bar vs. pinned halligan

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Adz End: The adz end is important. If you can’t tell by now, all the little details in design add up. The adz needs to be thin, have a slight curve to help get behind doors when setting the tool, and it needs to be in line with the striking surface. Remember, an out-of-line striking surface was one of the huge complaints with the claw tool that led to the invention of the Kelly Tool and the original halligan (Read Part 1). The Pro-Bar meets all three of these criteria. There are other halligans out there that come close, as well. Photos 3 and 4 show the Pro-Bar adz vs another drop forged halligan, as well as a pinned halligan. Notice the inline striking surface of the Pro-Bar, as well as the slight curve of the adz compared to the others.

Halligan forks comparison

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Pro-Bar vs. pinned halligan forks

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Fork End: The forks are just as important. The forks need to be slender and have the right curve to facilitate the ease of passing the forks between the door and the jamb. They make halligans with thinner forks than the Pro-Bar, but they also make halligans with forks that are too thick. Thick forks have a much harder time sliding in, especially on inward-swinging doors and against outward-swinging doors with no flex. Photos 5 and 6 show the Pro-Bar vs the same two halligans above. Notice how thick the forks are on the pinned halligan.

Shape of halligan shaft

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Gapped forks

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All the Little Extras: There are a variety of different nuances between the Pro-Bar and other halligans on the market. Some may be of no concern to you, but for me they are just another reason I like the Pro-Bar. To each his own, right? One element is the shape of the shaft of the halligan. The shaft of the Pro-Bar is octagonal, like a stop sign (photo 7). When you square the shoulders off of the Pro-Bar, this gives you a smooth, flat striking service for confined spaces. Some shafts are hexagonal, which places the angle where the sides come together in line with the shoulders. This can make striking the shoulders more difficult. Second, if you are into thru-the-lock forcible entry, the forks can be gapped to pull key-in-knob locks (photo 8). The Pro-Bar requires this gap be made by filing away on the inside of the forks. Other bars, like the Leatherhead Bar, do not require any additional gapping. A third difference across different bars is the adz ramp. The adz ramp is the angle on the end of the adz. Some manufacturers place the ramp on the top. Some place it on the bottom. When the ramp is on the bottom, it can cause problems on inward-swinging doors. The angle does not catch the doorstop well and can cause the tool to slip when force is being applied. Notice the adz ramp on top (photo 9) and the adz ramp on the underside (photo 10).

Adz ramp on top

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Adz ramp on underside

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There are many different options when it comes to purchasing a halligan tool. Before purchasing a bar or putting specs out for bid for your department, remember that tool quality makes a difference. A lot of forcible entry is technique and knowledge, but much of it is also in tool design. Buy a tool designed with the firefighter in mind.

Clay MageeClay Magee is an instructor with Magic City Truck Academy and a Firefighter/Paramedic with Birmingham (AL) Fire and Rescue and Chelsea Fire and Rescue. He is currently assigned to Rescue 20 at Birmingham. Clay began his career with the East Oktibbeha Fire Department in 2004 while attending Mississippi State University. He has been with Birmingham Fire since 2013. He has a passion for forcible entry and high-rise operations. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Mississippi State University, an associate’s degree in Fire Science from Columbia Southern University, and multiple certifications from the Alabama Fire College.