Tools for Us, By Us

Article, photos, and video By Samuel Hittle

During his FDIC class, Jamie Morelock goes on a rant about the history of our fire service tools. He talks about how the fire service was originally “forced to use the shipboard tools that came with them from the ‘Old Country’ but in today’s job, we have the luxury of purchasing tools made specifically for us, typically designed by us.” Morelock is spot on. In fact, aggressive companies take this concept a step further and will often modify or build their own tools to meet the particular needs of their first-due area.


Truck Company Tools Across the Country

Truck Company Operations: Truck Tools


Training Minutes: Halligan Modification for Forcible Entry

Take, for example,  the J Tool or Z Bar commonly used for gaining entry when confronted with panic hardware. Although there are several variations available to purchase, we have found one made at the firehouse with a car antenna best suits our companies’ needs. Most of us wouldn’t carry a pike pole with duplicate ends because it limits the tool’s versatility. Likewise, we chose to build our tool with an eight-inch L-shaped end at the thickest part of the antenna. The other modification we made was sharpening the point on the J-shaped end to help the tool dig into panic and push-paddle exit hardware.


Below is a picture showing how some of our officers marry the tool to the REX so it is always readily available if it is needed to overcome different entry challenges.


When met with cross bar-style exit hardware, we operate the tool traditionally by sliding the J-shaped end of the tool through the reveal, hooking the bar and pulling back to unlock the door. When faced with a push-pad style exit assembly, the same operation often results in the tool’s slipping off the assembly. In these situations, instead of attempting to hook the panic hardware, we use the sharpened point to dig into the bar when pulling back on it. This technique has also proven to be quicker and more efficient when used to overcome entry doors equipped with push-paddle hardware.



In our first-due area, we are starting to see a new trend where the above method is useless. Occupancies are installing motion detectors in conjunction with magnetic locks that are deactivated when an occupant approaches from the interior. A maintenance man on a still alarm shared a technique to defeat these doors with one of our firefighters. When making a run on a building with these installed, we place a rubber glove over the J-shaped end, slide it through the reveal, and rotate it in front of the motion detector’s eye while pulling on the door.


Hydraulics vs. Halligans: Choosing the Appropriate Forcible Entry Method

Hinge-Side Forcible Entry on Outward Swinging Doors

Drill: Getting More From Doors

Tripping a Tubular Deadbolt from the Top

We have also had success using the L-shape end of the tool as a shove knife. The first media clip is an example of defeating a push-paddle style slam latch on one of our regular buildings. Keep in mind that, as with any slam-latching assembly, expanding the reveal with the pry end of the REX or an adz may be necessary to disengage the dead man if it is working properly.

The occupant has installed a slam latch guard on a simple knob and key lock to prevent access to the locking mechanism. To beat this, we slide the L-shaped end of our tool behind the slam latch mechanism and apply pressure downward while slightly pulling the door toward us. As previously mentioned, this, too, is dependent on the effectiveness of the dead man. It is important to construct the L-shape at the thickest end of the antenna to withstand the force applied.

When confronted with metal constructed doors equipped with exit hardware only (i.e. fire towers, hospitals, schools) this tool allows for the implementation of the poke through technique. This method uses a hole made completely through both door skins above or below the locking assembly approximately 15 inches over from the latching side with the pike of a halligan bar. The L-shaped end is inserted into the hole so it overlaps the activation bar and pulled back to unlock the door. When the tool is properly located the hardware can be heard and felt as it moves. This technique maintains structural integrity of the slab, frame, and locking mechanisms while controlling the door. Because the door slab, mounting assembly, and hardware elements are preserved, the access can be resecured when the alarm has been brought under control.

See this Fire Engineeringarticle for more in-depth details.
The design and capabilities of the tools we carry are only restricted by our imagination. When not in battle, we should always be willing to entertain the “what if”, experiment with new techniques, and play with new tool designs to enhance our company operations and advance the Brotherhood.
Special thanks to Lieutenant Kieth Neimann and Firefighter Brian Powell for help with this article.

SAMUEL HITTLE, a 10-year veteran of the fire service, is a fire lieutenant in the Wichita (KS) Fire Department, assigned to Truck 1. He has an associate degree in fire science; is a Wichita HOT instructor; and is a contributing author to Fire Engineering and Urban Firefighter Magazine. At FDIC 2011, he is teaching a class on Firefighter Friendly Thermal Imaging.

Download a PDF version of this article HERE

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