With the development of hydraulic forcible entry tools (e.g., the Rabbit tool), forcible entry using a set of irons (eight- or 10-pound flathead ax and halligan bar) is quickly becoming a lost art. For those departments that do not have a Rabbit tools or for those instances where the hydraulic tool is not available or appropriate, the following is a guide for using a set of irons to force a door.


1. Perform size-up. Check out the situation to determine the best techniques and tools for the job.

• Check the doorknob; confirm it is locked.

• Is the door wood or metal?

• Check location and number of locks.

• How tight is the door? Push on the top or kick the bottom of the door to determine how much play there is, if any, and how many of the locks are engaged.

• Are the hinges visible, indicating the way the door swings?

• Are there unusual characteristics? The presence of carriage bolt heads may mean beefed-up security such as bars or lock mechanisms.


2. Control the door. Maintaining control of the door while forcing entry is important to prevent it from swinging open into the fire area, exposing members to heat and fire. Attach a hose strap or rope on the doorknob to maintain control of the door as it is being forced (photo 1).

3. Shock and gap the door. After placing the hose strap, “shock force” the door to loosen it in the doorjamb. Performing this procedure will make it easier to force the door with the halligan and flathead ax.


• Using the halligan as a battering ram, slam the fork end of the halligan against the door locks (photo 2). Use caution, and remember to hold the shaft of the halligan when striking the door. Placing a hand on the adz end may cause you to jam your wrist while striking the door.


• Place the adz end of the halligan into the jamb to further gap the door (photo 3). Force the pike end of the halligan away from the door to prevent imbedding it in the door.

4. Position of the forcible entry team.


• Initially, the halligan is held with the hand closest to the fork palm-side down and the hand closest to the hook palm-side up (photo 4). Hand position can change once the pushing or prying begins, enabling the firefighter to exert more strength and force into the procedure.


• The firefighter holding the ax should position himself on one knee if possible. This will give him better control and a more accurate swing. Also, if possible, the firefighter should position himself on the opposite side of the firefighter holding the halligan (photo 5).

5. Forcing the door.


• Start with the bevel side of the halligan fork flat against the door, approximately six inches above or below the lock. If the door has two locks, position the halligan between the locks. Angle the halligan slightly up or down. Doing this will make it easier to get your initial purchase. It is slightly easier to drive one side of the fork into the jamb initially than to try to drive both sides of the fork at the same time (photo 6).

• If the door is exceptionally tight, position the bevel side of the halligan away from the door, against the jamb. As the halligan is driven between the door and jamb, start to bend the door away from the jamb (photo 7).


• The firefighter holding the halligan is the only one to give commands. The member holding the halligan will give the command “hit, hit” for each time he wants the partner to swing the ax to drive the halligan into the door. The firefighter swinging the ax must not swing without first receiving an order to do so, and the firefighter holding the halligan must not move the bar after giving the command to hit. The firefighter swinging the ax should use short shoulder blows while swinging the ax and strive to strike the halligan on an angle to the adz to prevent striking the member holding the tool.


• With the halligan slightly angled, drive the halligan into the door. With each strike of the tool, make sure you are driving the halligan between the door and the jamb and not into the jamb itself. To prevent this, bring the halligan away from the door after each hit. As you continue to drive the halligan between the door and the jamb, start to spread the door. This will give you a wider area to slip the fork deeper into the jamb.

• When forcing a wooden door, you may, after only a couple of hits, have enough spread to open it. Be prepared for a wooden door to splinter, crack, or disintegrate when forcing it open. A metal door will be more difficult. Drive the fork of the halligan between the door and jamb until the space between the forks line up with the doorstop and the tips of the fork are approximately one to two inches past the inside door jamb (photos 8, 9). Some departments mark the fork of the halligan to avoid driving the tool too far into the jamb.


Apply inward pressure with the halligan to force the door. Having the beveled side of the fork against the door will shorten the distance between the halligan and the door, giving you more leverage.

• If you are not getting the desired leverage with the halligan alone, slide the flathead ax behind the beveled side of the halligan and apply force.

Note: The integrity of the door should be maintained throughout the process. If the integrity is destroyed, you may not be able to isolate the fire should the need arise.

Photos by John Miles.

JOHN MILES is a lieutenant with the Fire Department of New York, assigned to Ladder 35. Previously, he served with Ladder 34 and Engine 82 and as a volunteer firefighter with the River Vale (NJ) Fire Department and the Spring Valley (NY) Fire Department.

JOHN TOBIN, a 30-year fire service veteran, is assistant chief and training officer with the River Vale (NJ) Fire Department, where he previously served as chief. He has a master’s degree in public administration and is a member of the Bergen County (NJ) Fire Academy Advisory Board.

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