BY JAMIE C. MORELOCK
Most well-trained firefighters would have little difficulty forcing any exterior door on a residential structure. Door assemblies in these buildings normally swing inward and are commonly mounted in a wooden frame. They are easy to overcome because of their design and the materials from which they are constructed.
(1) Inserting the adz. Note the strike marks on the door slab from the sledgehammer. (Photos by author.) (2) If there is an insufficient gap for inserting the adz, strike the door slab near the hinge.
On the other hand, forcible entry at commercial occupancies presents firefighters with numerous challenges. Door assemblies in this type of building have all metal components, swing outward for egress, incorporate heavy-duty style locks, and are usually set into masonry walls. Trying to force a commercial door using residential techniques only sets the stage for failure.
Techniques for forcible entry are fairly universal. We try to operate on the lock side to maintain the integrity of the door. Controlling airflow into the structure helps to prevent adverse and dangerous fire behavior. However, there will be times when forcing the lock side proves nearly impossible or out of the limits of what would be considered timely. The forcible entry team that relies on one technique eventually will fail. You need a number of plans. At these times, you need to remain flexible and dig into your “toolbox” of techniques for an alternate method.
SELECTING THE RIGHT TOOLS
Common sense dictates that you wouldn’t hunt a bear with a slingshot. So why would you carry a lightweight ax at a commercial operation?
Forcible entry at a commercial structure requires the use of a 10-pound or greater sledgehammer. Teaming this “heavy hitter” with a high-quality halligan or Kelly-type tool increases the likelihood of accomplishing the task in a timely manner.
In many cases, the easiest way to attack hinges is with a rotary saw. However, there will be times when one is not available or when the saw cannot be positioned properly or safely to make the cut. Additionally, stainless steel hinges can be time consuming to cut. In those situations, the following approach might be your plan A.
SIZING-UP THE ENEMY
Before taking any action, look over the door and formulate a plan. When forcing a door, it is best to attack this “enemy” at its weakest point. On an outward-swinging commercial door, the weakest point is generally the exposed hinges. The hinges on most commercial doors are made from stainless steel. While the hinge itself is strong, the screws that hold it in place fail rather easily.
A SIMPLE TECHNIQUE
The technique of shearing the hinge screws was adapted from the hinge “shaving” method developed by Lieutenant Dave Gallagher of the Huber Heights (OH) Fire Department.
Hinge “shearing” is a quick and simple technique that can be used on the door slab or the frame side of the hinge. It also works well on doors recessed into the building, where finding sufficient room for driving or prying would be difficult with other methods.
To shear the hinge screws, place the adz of the prying tool between the hinge and door assembly, and drive it inward until the screws break.
(3) Maintaining a sharpened edge on the adz facilitates insertion. (4) Two or three controlled strikes should be sufficient to shear the screws.
Rotate the tool until the adz is aligned with the hinge and is in a position where you can easily drive it. The tool can be against the door slab or the building’s wall. If there is not enough gap to insert the adz, you can create one by striking the door slab near the hinge with the sledgehammer. It is easiest to work from the bottom to the top. Once the top hinge is sheared, pry outward with the tool; this will start the door slab’s pulling free from the frame. A hook or a pike pole can be used to assist with pulling the door. By standing on the lock side and pulling toward you, you can use the door as a shield against venting smoke and fire.
With most of the American fire service operating with understaffed apparatus, firefighters need to work smarter, not harder. If personnel expend all of their energy performing forcible entry, what good will they be for the remainder of the operation?
With any action we perform, proper size-up and tactical objectives must be considered, especially since this technique compromises the door’s integrity.
Keep the door slab close by in case a situation should arise that would necessitate your replacing it over the door opening.
Quickly opening doors at a commercial fire provides entry and egress for firefighters and affects horizontal ventilation ahead of advancing hoselines. All are crucial tactics for safe and effective operations in these structures. ■
■ JAMIE C. MORELOCK is a firefighter for the Fremont (OH) Fire Department. An Ohio-certified instructor, he is an instructor of fire tactics in Bowling Green State University’s continuing education program and in engine and ladder company operations for Vanguard-Sentinel Career Center in Fremont.