Firefighter Training Drill: Keep the Garage Door Open

Indianapolis Fire Department firefighters battle garage fire
Photo courtesy of Indianapolis (IN) Fire Department

Firefighters responding to garage fires may encounter different situations. Perhaps it’s just the garage itself on fire, or the vehicle inside the garage may be on fire. Regardless of the cause or the reason for the garage fire, they do present some unique hazards. One such hazard is the garage door. 

Garage doors can present a big problem for firefighters when they must enter it for interior operations. Whether the garage door is a manual door or an automatic door, the possibility of the door closing after firefighters have entered inside is a very real possibility.

On a manual garage door, when it closes behind the crew, it will be easy to open it back up because there is nothing stopping it from opening. With an automatic door opener, however, this will not be the case. The door opener will prevent the garage door from being opened up manually unless the door opener device is separated or released from the garage door. This can be done easily by pulling on the pull chord to release the door opener chain from the door, if it’s accessible. If the pull chord cannot be accessed, then other options must be used. 

One such option is to use a pike pole or a roof hook to prop open the garage door. While this may work, they are not always reliable. The pike pole can easily slip out and will no longer prop the door open. If a pike pole is going to be used, then assigning a firefighter to man the pole is a safer option.

Another option is to use a pair of vice grips on the garage door rails. With the garage door open, the vice grip should be placed at the bottom of the door on the rail. Locking the vice grips will ensure they do not open and allow the door to close. Either way, the garage door needs to stay open.

That’s the background, then, for this firefighter training drill.

Equipment needed: Six-foot pike pole or roof hook, vice grips, and access to a garage door at a house or building

Goal: To become familiar with the different ways to keep a garage door open and prevent them from closing prematurely.   


  1. Find a garage door that can be used, whether at a residential house under construction or a public building like a underground parking garage or a condominium building parking garage.
  2. With the garage door open, first use the six-foot pike pole or roof hook to prop the door open and prevent it from moving.
  3. See what different spots on the garage door work best for the pike pole or rook hoof.
  4. Then try using a pair of vice grips on the garage door rail by clamping the vice grips on the rail just before the garage door bottom panel. This will require the garage door to be open fully before applying the vice grips.
  5. Afterwards, locate the pull chord to see how the release function works. It should release the garage door so that it can move freely.

Key points:

  1. Study the garage door opener to see how else a door can be released should the pull chord not be accessible or available.
  2.  If it is an automatic garage door, it must be propped open with either a pike pole or a pair of vice grips
Mark van der Feyst
Mark van der Feyst

Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1999 and is a firefighter with the Fort Gratiot (MI) Fire Department. He is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States, and India, and at FDIC. He is also the lead author of Residential Fire Rescue (Fire Engineering Books & Video). He can be contacted at


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