The question should be, Would you rather carry a tool that can do a few things or one that has numerous capabilities and functions?

Firefighters are constantly trying to do more and more with the tools issued to them–consequently, the tools are subjected to many “homegrown” fire station innovations. These innovations usually result in a tool`s having more than one use and make firefighting operational tasks easier and more efficient. Often, innovations to a hook handle add a single added use, as in the case of incorporating a gas shutoff into the hook`s butt end. On the other hand, a metal-handle hook with a pry bar end has many uses. (Note: Many of these metal-handle hooks are of halligan or multihook head design; they may also be referred to as the “roofman`s hook.”)

As with most hooks, their main functions are for opening up walls, ceilings, windows, and roofs to vent or expose fire extension. Adding the pry bar end has made the hooks usable for many other fireground tasks such as the following:

Prying open plywood-covered windows (non-HUD style). Three options have worked well in this situation.

–Pry around the edge of the plywood sheet, releasing the fasteners.

–Drive the pry end through the plywood sheet, about 12 inches from an edge. Now, push the whole hook toward the window; the fasteners should release. (Note: Insert the pry end of the hook so that it doesn`t catch on the inside of the window frame. The pry end should be resting on the inside of the plywood sheet, exerting outward pressure.)

–Drive the pry end through the plywood sheet and use the hole just made as your purchase point. Insert the head of the hook into the hole and pull outward.

•Making an initial starter hole or purchase point for pulling ceilings or walls. In many buildings, gypsum board/drywall has been screwed and glued over existing lath and plaster. Forcing the head of the hook through two ceilings is often difficult. Using the pry end to pierce through the two ceilings is easier and creates an initial entry point for the hook`s head. The pry end, because of its smaller size, is also less likely to strike a joist when forced through the ceiling. We have also used this method to create the purchase point for tin ceilings. The starter hole can also be used to look for fire extension in the bays of joists and returns of a scuttle or skylight. (Note: Whenever forcing any type of hook through an object, never place your hand on the butt end or on the base of a “D” handle hook. Maintain a baseball-bat grip around the hook`s handle; this permits the hook to slide through your hands in case you strike a joist, stud, or other substantial object. Thus, this method will reduce your chance of injury.)

•Assisting with and maintaining a purchase point on outward-opening doors. Once the halligan tool is in position, either on the side of the door or under the base, pry outward. You can insert the pry bar end of the hook into the space to maintain a purchase point. At this point, a few options exist. Once the halligan tool is in position to force the door, the hook can remain in the purchase point near the base of the door. In this way, it will maintain the purchase point if the halligan tool slips out of position. Option two has the pry end and halligan both in the purchase point. Pry with both tools to force the door. Finally, the hook`s head and the halligan can be inserted into the purchase point, and prying with both tools can force the door.

•Probing the roof`s surface. When traveling cautiously on a flat roof, bounce the pry end along the roof`s surface to identify soft spots (sticky and melting tar) and weakened roof areas. This will enable you to identify dangerous roof areas and determine the proper area for beginning operations for vertical ventilation.

•Pushing down ceilings from the roof for vertical ventilation. Once the roof has been cut and pulled, the ceiling must be pushed down to provide the proper vertical ventilation. Using the pry or butt end of a hook is always the preferable method for pushing the ceiling down because there is less chance of this end`s getting caught on a structural member, wire, or cable. The pry end will easily pierce the top-floor ceiling whether it is lath and plaster, gypsum board, or tin.

•Ventilating windows with wire mesh security devices. In some situations where immediate ventilation is necessary, the pry end will fit through the larger-size wire mesh used on factories, warehouses, and bulkheads, permitting rapid ventilation.

•Acts as a pry or digging bar. The pry bar end can be helpful in removing moldings (baseboard and crown), sheathing, siding, and trim.

•Lifting flush-mounted sidewalk door frames. Since many of these frames have been installed in the concrete and exposed to the elements for some time, the anchor points usually are rusted through. Also, for increased security benefits, many of these doors are secured in a closed position from the inside by a chain, cable, or brace. Prying the outer edge of the frame will cause the whole assembly to lift from the sidewalk, creating a large opening for access, egress, and ventilation.

•Working in unison with a halligan tool. Carrying two steel-handle tools (the hook and halligan) affords the firefighter another set of forcible entry tools. The hook may be used as the striking tool by simply placing the hook`s head on the ground and exerting downward pressure with your foot. The hook`s handle can then be pivoted in a swinging motion, striking the halligan and forcing it into position. This is another option in forcible entry and can be valuable when a firefighter is operating independently of his unit. All of the scenarios given above have been tried and tested on the fireground. Undoubtedly, additional uses for the steel-handle hook will continue to be defined.


The pry bar end is found exclusively on metal-handle hooks, which are similar in weight to solid fiberglass and wooden-handle hooks. Among the advantages of steel- handle hooks are the following:

•They are less likely to snap, crack, or splinter than hooks of other materials.

•Maintaining a steel-handle hook is fairly easy. Glass cannot penetrate its surface as it can fiberglass and wood. Any burr or chip can easily be filed or grounded down, and a wire wheel or steel wool can easily remove rust or roof tar.

•Obviously, the greatest advantage the pry bar end hook offers is that it has two workable ends.

Some of the negative aspects of a steel-handle hook include the following:

•The handle will conduct electricity. This isn`t as dramatic as it may appear. One of the truck company`s main duties is to shut down the utilities (gas and electric), usually before overhaul operations; thus, the chance of piercing a charged wire is greatly reduced. In a situation involving wires down, possibly on a victim or a car, common sense tells a firefighter not to carry a steel-handle hook.

•The handle will bend and become distorted if prying a heavy enough object. During operations, bent hooks happen. Firefighters are always pushing tools to the limit. Time and life are of the essence, and you must be able to adapt using the tools on hand. If the hook can`t be straightened out to form a workable handle, place it out of service. Requisition a new one.

•The steel-handle hook is heavier than other hooks. The weight issue should not be the deciding factor in whether to carry a metal-handle hook with a pry bar end. The question should be, Would you rather carry a tool that can do a few things or one that has numerous capabilities and functions?

Since our job is so unpredictable and the tasks at hand are often numerous and unimaginable, carrying a tool with more than one function makes great sense. The pry bar end hook definitely offers firefighters more options in their arsenal of tools and equipment.

The size-up of this outward-opening door revealed a gap between the base of the door and the frame. By placing the halligan in this gap and prying outward, a purchase point begins to form. This method works well when forcing new energy-efficient doors that are tightly sealed except for the base. The cheap weather stripping usually present is no match for a halligan tool.

Once sufficient space begins to appear between the door and the jamb, the pry end of the hook can be inserted to maintain the purchase point or to force open the door.

The firefighter`s body leans into the hook, applying pressure that opens the purchase point. The halligan tool can then be placed in the appropriate position. The firefighter has the option of forcing the door with one tool or both tools.

The firefighter is using the pry bar end to remove a cover of a dumbwaiter shaft. Prying up all the trim will sometimes facilitate a removal.

Using the hook as a striking tool is another way to force entry.

Three variations of pry bar end hooks.

(Photos by author)

MICHAEL N. CIAMPO is a firefighter with the Fire Department of New York. He previously served with the District of Columbia Fire Department. He has a bachelor`s degree in fire science from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York City, and was an instructor in the 1999 FDIC Hands-On Training program.

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