A New Forcible Entry Challenge

One day during a new construction walk-through the Brownsburg (IN) Fire Department was conducting, we noticed a security bar that was much more substantial than any we had ever seen in our jurisdiction. Because of the type of area we protect, we never considered forcible entry a problem in the past. Our department performs light fire duty for a population of 30,000 mostly middle- to upper-class residents. We staff two engines, one truck, one rescue, and two ambulances. Most training is directed toward EMS, rescue, and fire suppression. With interstate access and a rapidly growing population, however, we were surprised to see the security measures local merchants had begun taking. Rolldown gates, bars, and heavy-duty locks and door bars were becoming more commonplace. Since we didn’t know such measures were present before, we were unprepared to deal with them. We were behind the power curve in forcible entry training and are now taking steps to catch up.

PROBLEMS WITH THE PHOENIX DEFENDER


One forcible entry challenge we encountered is a device called the Phoenix Defender. It is a drop-in style bar with additional features to increase security. The bar is bolted through a steel security door with a concrete-filled metal frame.


Outside. From the exterior, you see only two three-eighths-inch-thick metal plates. The bolts are cut off and welded instead of the normal nuts or bolts that can be removed with hand tools and knocked in with a halligan. Placing the adz end of a halligan on these plates and shearing them off would be too time-consuming. You would be trying to shear four half-inch bolts and break four welds-not very practical, especially if forcing multiple doors. If you were to try to attack the hinges, the design of the bar would still hold the door in place. Also noticeable from the outside is that one of the mounting plates is angled. This is important once you are inside.


Inside. With most drop-in bars, once you access the bar you simply push/pull up and remove the bar. But this bar has one angled bracket and one straight bracket. To put the bar in place, you place it into the angled bracket first and rotate it into the other bracket. The process is reversed to remove the bar. Removing the bar sounds simple until you encounter this unfamiliar device in a smoke-filled environment or, worse, when you are in a panicked state trying to rapidly exit the structure.


Another problem is that the bar is fitted with rubber end caps. When in place, these caps hold the bar tightly in the frame, making the bar difficult to remove. Some bars are so tight that you must pull up firmly with both hands, push up from a kneeling position, or strike with a tool.


A third problem is that the bar is locked in place with a padlock to prevent someone who has entered the structure by means other than the secured door from removing the bar from the inside and opening the door. With the padlock in this position, it is almost impossible to reach it with bolt cutters, saws, and most other tools to cut it.

SOLUTIONS FOR FORCIBLE ENTRY

Outside. We have found two methods to deal with this bar from the outside. The first is to use the rotary saw with metal cutting blade to cut the lower half of the door off and then enter and remove the bar from the inside to open the upper half of door. Just keep in mind that the open lower half of door does not constitute a tenable exit. The flammable gases are still being held in by the upper part of the door. You have done nothing for ventilation and not much more for firefighter entry/exit. Also keep in mind that you lose some control of the door should you need to close it. Always consider when forcing a door that you may later want to reseal the doorway.

The second method is to use the same rotary saw, place it at a 30- to 45-degree angle to the outside plate, and cut the bolts as they pass from the inside to the outside of the door. These bolts hold the outer steel plates and the interior-mounting brackets together. Then remove the plates with a set of irons, and the bar will fall to the floor from the inside. This method takes practice. It is tough to cut with this saw at this angle and height and still get a good, full-depth cut. Keep in mind that all bars are not installed at waist height, and some have panic hardware as well. Some bars are installed so they cannot be reached without a step stool or ladder from the inside.

Inside. To remove the bar from the interior, remove the padlock, rotate the bar toward the angled bracket, break the seal created by the rubber end caps, and pull up. If you can use a saw, you can cut the bar in the middle, and both pieces of the bar will rotate down, allowing you to open the door. If you cannot use a saw, you will have to remove the lock another way.

  • Look for additional mounting brackets on the outside of the door. Some occupancies have added extra security devices or standard panic hardware.
  • Consider breaching a wall on either side of the door as an alternative. Although a very labor-intensive and time-consuming job, wall breaching may be possible from an adjacent occupancy.
  • Always be aware of the signs of backdraft when forcing openings and entering structures.

ADDITIONAL TIPS

Just like any other fire duty, when performing forcible entry, you must operate intelligently and aggressively. You are trying to outsmart the designer of the device while working as quickly as possible in often horrendous conditions.

We found this device most commonly used in strip malls/taypayers. These buildings usually have a front and rear exit, and this bar may be guarding one of only two means of escape at your disposal in a time of distress. Thus it is important to look for these devices under nonfire conditions and become familiar with them.

MATT STEWART, a 13-year veteran of the fire service, is a captain with the Wayne Township (IN) Fire Department. He previously was a battalion chief with the Brownsburg (IN) Fire Department. Stewart holds numerous fire service certifications.

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