The “key tool(s).” You either have used the “through-the-lock” method of forcing entry to locked doors on or within fire buildings, are adopting it, or are so far behind in basic firefighting that this column won`t help you. In any event, have you ever found that the tool accompanying the “K” tool, “A” tool, or “O” tool–or whatever else that may have been proved inadequate in some experienced departments–is just not there (missing from the holder, lost, or has vibrated loose and is found on the floor of the apparatus cab or tool compartment after the cylinder has been pulled)? What do you do in such cases? Make your own individual tool set.

In the old days of burn-baby-burn, we were in need of such things, since the assignment for the forcible entry changed every day or night tour. The truck officer`s turnout coat pocket was then designated as the location for the tool because of the many and varied assignment changes made on arrival because of unique size-up conditions. And, usually the arriving truck officer`s goal is the door to the fire building or fire occupancy. (If this is not the case in your department, that is a whole different problem and needs addressing.)

So in the very early `70s, we made the first set of “key tools” out of welding rods found in the firehouse. We first cut them in six- to seven-inch pieces and shaped them with the screwdriver or the “bent” shape on one end and formed an eye the size of a nickel at the other end.

If you encounter any other shapes in your district, the Fox Lock Company, for instance, you can add that shape, too. Attach all to a clip for your belt (always there for the officer) or coat, or whatever. This simple arrangement was photographed by two visiting lecture wizards while they were buffing with us in Brooklyn and the Bronx to form a marketable forcible entry lecture for the nation. Now, lo and behold, you can purchase them in catalogs. But, we made the first group, and so can you make your own.

Channel lock pliers. You can fashion another “key tool” from the handles of the channel lock pliers in your turnout coat. Just machine one shape (grinding and heating) on each of the two handles, and don`t forget to cut the handle for the screwdriver shape after you bend the other handle. Again, if this is too murky for you, you can always find this tool in a catalog somewhere.

Vise grip. Another “tricky” tool is a vise grip with a chain adapted for attachment. Just drill an adequate hole in the release lever of the tool and attach a store-bought dog chain (about five feet, not shorter). Double wrap the chain around the tool before putting it into your valuable turnout coat pockets. The vise grip alone can be used for sprinkler replacements when the legislated wrench is not in place in the occupancy, gas shutoff valves, and standpipe operating nuts from which the wheel has been removed by “collectors,” and to raise and lower tools during overhauling (God forbid that you didn`t bring with you the tools you need for immediate firefighting assignment!), to hold padlocks away from the wall for cutting with torch or saw, and to hold chain assemblies on gates and doors that need cutting. How about removing slats from a rolldown door after the first opening has been made and that opening is too hot for you to operate near or you need additional strength to remove the first heated and bent slat?

A more common use is to control the door in front of the fire that you are forcing. Just attach the tool to the door handle and step on the chain. The door will never fly open and beyond control (a reason for the five or more feet of chain–see how this all fits?). A thousand other uses will come to you once you decide to carry this and any of the other devices described above.

Halligan adz. Another tip is to put a notch into the adz of the halligan (type) tool you are carrying on the truck. It makes an excellent lock cylinder-pulling device. We used to put one of these shapes into all of the halligan tools (four or five) we were carrying on the truck. Remember that all the firefighters have their own “key tools” and could be in a situation that requires forcible entry elsewhere than at the fire door–elevator bulkhead doors, incinerator clean-out rooms, HVAC access on upper floors, utility and other service compartments, cellars, and compactor rooms–not to mention the all-important floors above the fire floor–and more. The remarkable thing is that the notch didn`t affect the efficiency of the halligan adz. You might be thinking that the adz can no longer serve as a chisel for removing rivet heads. However, we found out long ago that it was easier to hit the adz blade on the rivet head with the halligan than the halligan with the ax–that is, if you have the good halligan and not the lightweight (“I can`t carry these heavy things, Captain”)-type.

Don`t forget to refill your 212-gallon extinguisher from last month.

TOM BRENNAN has more than 35 years of fire service experience. His career spans more than 20 years with the City of New York (NY) Fire Department as well as four years as chief of the Waterbury (CT) Fire Department. He was the editor of Fire Engineering for eight years and currently is a technical editor. He is co-editor of The Fire Chief`s Handbook, Fifth Edition (Fire Engineering Books, 1995).

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