By Michael N. Ciampo
How many times have you walked into a room to open up a ceiling and thrown your hook up, only to have it ricochet back at you? Then do you do it a second time with the same results? Now that it has failed twice, and others are watching, you say to yourself, “There’s no way this thing is going to beat me in front of the others.” So, with superhuman strength and power, you launch the hook upward, your pride riding along with it.
As it strikes the drywall, you hear a loud thump, and your muscles and bones tingle from a direct strike on a ceiling joist. In addition, all you did was make a small divot in the ceiling. Not only do you physically ache from the impact, but your pride and self-esteem have taken a blow as well. Plus your original task of opening up the ceiling has been delayed, possibly resulting in fire growth and extension.
Many of us have done this at some point in our career. Usually we aren’t so willing to discuss these minor mishaps and setbacks, but we have to. These somewhat simple tasks can often be the hardest to perform and can cause some of the worst injuries. Luckily for us, many of us have been down the same road and have adapted and overcome similar situations.
Most fire department hooks have somewhat of a large head assembly, which can measure up to six inches in total length. The hooks also come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes for a multitude of uses. Add these characteristics to an old plaster ceiling that has been covered over with a new layer of drywall, and you’ll be up against a tough surface to penetrate–not to mention that a hook with a six-inch head span can increase your odds of striking a ceiling joist.
Here’s a simple solution for you to put into your “tricks of the trade” memory bank to assist in opening up a ceiling: Instead of forcefully trying to penetrate the ceiling with the hook’s head, spin the handle around and use the butt end. Grasp the hook around the shaft with both hands, much like using a pool cue. Now slide it through your hands with force, and penetrate the ceiling. Once you make an initial opening, you have some options: You can punch another hole next to the original hole to make a larger opening for the hook’s head or just reverse the tool and punch the hook’s head through the initial opening. Using the butt end of the hook normally penetrates the ceiling easier and much faster than attempts with the hook’s head. Also, because of its smaller size, it is less likely to strike a ceiling joist. You will speed up the process of making inspection holes in the bays of ceiling joists to check for fire extension.
The “Butt End of the Hook” method is a very easy maneuver to perform. The only main safety issue is to glance around you so you do not strike another firefighter while rotating the hook around. This method will be of great assistance in gaining purchases/openings in a variety of ceiling types (i.e., plaster and lath, plaster covered with drywall, double drywall, tin ceilings). It will also reduce a firefighter’s fatigue level and make lighter work of a tough job while reducing the risk of injury.
So, the next time a fellow firefighter is having a hard time getting an initial opening in a ceiling and tells you “But I can get it!” tell him “You almost got the BUTT part right.”
Michael N. Ciampo is a lieutenant with the Fire Department of New York, assigned to the 7th Division. He previously was a firefighter in the Washington, D.C., Fire Department. He has a B.A. from John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He is a New York State and FDIC instructor.