When firefighters are killed or seriously injured in the performance of their duties, it is the responsibility of those who remain behind to study the events leading to the tragedy in the hope that similar occurrences can be prevented in the future. A critique of the following two tragedies pointed to the same lesson learned: Firefighters can be placed in great danger when the control of doors is not maintained. In the first tragedy involving a fire on the first floor of a multiple dwelling in an eastern city, a captain and two firefighters attempting to gain entry to the apartment above the fire were engulfed in flames when fire vented out of the first-floor apartment door that had just been forced. In the second incident, which occurred in another eastern city, a firefighter was severely burned after an overhead garage door slammed shut, trapping him.


Following are various methods you can use to control the door at a working fire. It is a basic, yet essential, fireground function, one that controls the inrush of oxygen that can rapidly intensify a fire.

Photo 1. Force the hinge side of an interior door only as a last resort. Forcing the hinge side destroys the door’s integrity and prevents your reclosing it if it should become necessary.

Photo 2. Attach a small-diameter utility rope carried in an old canteen case to the doorknob before forcing the door. The rope helps to control the swing when forcing doors that open inward (swing away from the forcible entry team). One firefighter can stand on the free end to prevent the door from flying open when the door finally gives. It can then be used as a search rope to orient the forcible entry team to the location of the public hall.

Photo 3. A door-latch strap can prevent an apartment, hotel room, or office door (you wouldn’t want to use a latch strap for private dwellings) from locking behind you. Fastening the strap to the doorknob on each side of the door prevents the latch from entering the keeper and indicates that a primary search is underway. The position shown in the photo indicates that the primary search has been completed. A doubled-over strap means a secondary search has been conducted. (You can make a strap out of old inner tubes.)

Photo 4. Anytime a hoseline is extended through a doorway, you must chock the doorway open. Failure to do so may result in the line’s becoming wedged under the door. The line will be unable to advance and, worse, firefighters will be trapped on the fire side of the door that is now wedged shut.

Photo 5. Don’t forget to chock open exterior doors when investigating the cause of the alarm. Failure to do so will result in a delay in the arrival of reinforcements should a fire be discovered. Frequently, welcome mats can be used for this purpose.

Photo 6. Self-closing doors can be held open by placing a golf tee or nail in a hinge, but they can be easily dislodged. A “lollipop” chock is much more secure than golf tees or nails and can also be used on doors without self-closers. The chock consists of a sheet of aluminum with a strip that can be bent in the form of a hook to catch the hinge, thus preventing the chock from being dislodged.

Photo 7. Many firefighters carry 1- 2 2-inch wooden wedges so they can be used to chock a flowing sprinkler head. This chock does not have sufficient surface area to be a secure door chock. The solution is to cut 2- 2 2-inch wedges that can be used exclusively as door chocks or to fasten two 1- 2 2-inch sprinkler wedges together with drywall screws.

When space between the floor and the bottom edge of the door permits, place the chock under the door. Jam the chock securely in place by forcefully closing the door against the chock to prevent it from being dislodged. Sometimes, however, exterior doors may be as much as four inches above a porch or sidewalk. In this case, place the wedge above the bottom hinge-again, to prevent dislodging. Drive the chock in the space between the door and the jamb.

Photo 8. Use a hook to pull the door shut if conditions become untenable. A water extinguisher can often be used to extinguish just enough fire to allow the door to be closed, preventing extension and allowing the search to continue.

Photo 9. Vise grips can be used to control screen doors that will not stay open. If a hoseline is going into a house, it is better to completely remove the screen door (grab it and tear it off). If equipped with a six-foot-long lightweight chain, the grips can also be clamped around a doorknob when forcing the door. Hold the free end of the chain to prevent the door from flying open when it gives.

Photo 10. Vise grips can be clamped onto an overhead door’s guide rails to provide additional security should the pike pole used on the opposite side be dislodged. It is important to prevent overhead doors from unexpectedly closing. This can be caused by (1) a loss of tension in the springs that counterbalance the weight of the door-these springs relax when exposed to heat; (2) the snapping of the cables that connect the sectional door to the spring assembly, which would cause the door to come down like a guillotine; and (3) accidental activation of the automatic garage door opener.

Photo 11. The firefighter assigned to the roof position must make sure that the bulkhead door remains open. This is critical. If this is not done, a disaster may result once the interior apartment door is forced.

Photo 12. Every firefighter should carry at least two door chocks as personal equipment. Additional chocks should be available. This company is carrying an extra supply attached to the “can” by way of an inner tube. Others elect to carry them in standpipe kits or attached to bleach bottles used to carry utility ropes.

The firefighter can also carry two door chocks on his helmet. They can be kept in place with a band of rubber (which can be cut from an inner tube from a small lawn tractor).

An ax blade makes a good door chock. Typically, the forcible entry team would use the ax (with the halligan) to force a door and then enter to search with just the halligan or a hoseline. The ax stays at the doorway to keep it open.

Although proper door control is not as exciting as many of the functions we perform while operating at fires, it is essential to the safe performance of our duties. Remember to control the door!

LANCE C. PEEPLES is a firefighter in St. Louis County, Missouri. He has a B.S. in public administration and associate’s degrees in fire protection and paramedic technology. He formerly served as a shift supervisor for the City of St. Louis EMS and has taught in the fire protection program at East Central College.

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