Hold the Door

BY ROBERT ROWLEY

There are many considerations with forcing entry into doors. This includes the construction of the door, its frame, locking mechanisms, the direction of door travel, and the desire to leave the door intact as a means of protecting firefighter egress from advancing fire conditions. However, what do you do once you have forced a door? How do you effectively keep a door open while operations continue? What methods can be used for different kinds of doors? Let’s look at a few examples.

DEVICES

Door Wedge. The door wedge has many uses besides looking cool on a firefighter’s helmet. It is a quick, simple way to hold a door open and probably our most common method of holding doors open in a residential fire setting.


(1) The classic wooden door wedge placed beneath a door; it is rather effective but not very secure. (Photos by author.)

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(2) The door wedge placed off the floor at a hinge. While not as prone to being dislodged by advancing hoselines, it is still just as vulnerable to becoming loose with door movement. Here, a longer wedge helps when the door is not tight on the wedge holding it in place; the weight of the wedge will hold it into the door.

Hinge Wedge. This device has recently become very popular. Many varieties are available commercially, but many firefighters also construct them at home. This tool is a metal plate that is placed between the door and the jamb. A hook from the device drops over the hinge to hold the wedge in place. The tool is very effective as long as it remains in place. Sometimes, the wedge’s own weight pulls it off the hinge, and it is prone to being easily knocked or blown off when positive-pressure ventilation (PPV) is implemented. This device also tends to be rather odd-shaped, and it is difficult to carry more than two or three simultaneously.


(3) A commercially made hinge wedge.

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(4) The hinge wedge in use. An effective tool, but it becomes more prone to coming off the hinge if the door is opened and tension on the wedge is released.

Hooked Wooden Dowel. Usually homemade, this is very similar to the hinge wedge and has proven to be just as effective. Here, a nail or screw is driven into the top of a section of wooden dowel and then bent over to form a hook. It is used in the same way as a hinge wedge and has the same pros and cons. If the dowel is not made well, the hook may pull out of the wood. However, the dowel is lighter, and its distinctive shape usually makes it easier to use in a low-light environment.


(5) A homemade hooked wooden dowel.

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(6) The hooked wooden dowel in use. One advantage of this device over the hinge wedge is how it fits close into the hinge. When the door is opened and pressure on the device is released, its weight pulls it down onto the hinge, not out and off. Still, like the hinge wedge, when not under pressure, the device is more prone to being knocked out of place by passing firefighters or even blown off when PPV is put in place.

Rubber Lock Cover. Available commercially or easily made at home, this device is probably one of the most limited in its ability to secure a door. It consists of a flat piece of rubber with two holes in it. One hole is placed over the door handle. The mat then goes around the door, covering the latching mechanism, and over the other handle, to hold it in place. It is not intended to hold a door open, just to keep it from locking shut. It can be used only on doors with knob- or handle-style fixtures. Additionally, it does not always work. A lock with a strong enough spring still may push against this device hard enough to enable the throw to set in the jamb and lock the door.


(7) A rubber lock cover in place for use. Notice how you can see the latch mechanism pushing out against the rubber. This may be a real problem on some doors where the lock mechanism is especially strong.

Hinge Clip. I made this device with a simple ½-inch piece of steel. The clip slips over the door hinge and provides an obstruction that keeps it open. The snug fit and hook on its end secure it on the hinge even if the door is opened further and tension is removed from the device. It acts directly on the door hinge, where there is no give from digging into the wood of a door or such. The two bends in the metal help add strength to its load-bearing portion.


(17) A homemade hinge clip.

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(18) Hinge clip at work.

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(19) Hinge clip at work.

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Built-In Devices. These include various doorstops and hold mechanisms that are a part of the door. One of the two most common is the drop-down style of doorstop that mounts to the bottom of the door and flips down, making contact with the ground to hold the door open. The other is self-closing door hardware that holds the door once it is fully opened.


(8) A built-in doorstop. Use with great caution. Over time, these devices can lose their rubber grip and, with it, their ability to hold a door open.

A piece of equipment being used more frequently is the magnetic door holder, wherein a metal piece mounted on the door makes contact with a device mounted on the adjacent wall to magnetically hold the door open. Most of these are tied into the fire alarm system. When the alarm activates, it automatically releases these doors. It is imperative that you ask yourself the following questions before using such in-house equipment: How heavily am I relying on this door to stay open? How much am I willing to trust this equipment?

OTHER TECHNIQUES


(9) A self-closing door mechanism. The body of the device is on the door, and the arm extends to the wall. Some are set up the other way, with the body of the device on the wall.

There are a few other techniques to keep in mind. Each will have its advantages and disadvantages based on how critical it is for a door to remain open, how much damage can be sustained, the importance of time, and what specific challenges a door may present.

Nailing the Lock. This method does not hold the door open but ensures that the door will not lock if it closes. Hold the lock throw in while you run a nail down the diagonal of the throw and drive it into the door. This holds in the throw and creates an obstruction that prevents the door from seating fully into the jamb.


(10) Nailing a lock. This door has been damaged during training, making it possible to see how the cut nail extends all the way into the body of the door handle.

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(11) Here a door is “nailed” open without the use of a tool.

Off-Center the Door. Have you ever had to lift up on a door to close it? A quick twist with the adz of a halligan bar above the top hinge will pull the door out at the top. There is a good chance that this alone will make the door stay where it is put. If it does not, it will at least off-center the door so that it cannot close. If conditions deteriorate and you want to cover your retreat, just a little lift on the door will close it.


(13) A halligan bar is placed just above the top hinge of a door in preparation for pulling it off-center.

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(14) Firefighters pull a door off center. This serves two functions. First, the door will usually stay where you put it, as the outside bottom corner will now be dragging on the floor. Second, if the door tries to close, it will no longer fit squarely in the jamb.

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Disable Self-Closing Hardware. Automatically closing doors present serious entrapment hazards for firefighters. To disable this hardware, strike the mechanism where the thinner of the two arms connects to the door or wall, attacking the thinnest pins on the device. Also, there is too much give toward the middle of the arms, so a strike there may bounce back.


(12) A brisk strike to the narrowest arm at its point of attachment breaks and thus disables this self-closing hardware.

The most important step you can take in securing a door is to think about it in advance. Go out and look at the buildings in your district; don’t ask yourself how to just open a door for a 3 a.m. fire but how to keep it open. Kick around some ideas, and don’t be afraid to try new things. See what works and what doesn’t. Talk about it with your company, and devise a few ideas of your own. Get out there, observe, and brainstorm before the call comes in.


(15) Built-in hardware has been used to prop the door open while self-closing hardware has been disabled.

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(16) A combination of methods in use. The top arrow shows where the door has been off centered, where a nail has been placed. At the bottom, we see where the door is dragging on the floor to help hold it open.

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(20) It is not a good situation when you arrive on-scene and need a tool, only to realize that it was left behind to hold a door.

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Robert Rowley is a 13-year fire service veteran and a training instructor with the Henrico (VA) County Fire Department. He also supervises training with the Centerville (VA) Volunteer Fire Department. He has two associate’s degrees and is a certified medic and nurse.

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