Hand Tool Security Bar and Gate Removal


Security bars and gates can be found in almost any setting. The previous mindset that they were only present in higher-crime, poverty-stricken areas is not the case anymore. More decorative, stylish versions are being installed in much of the country. Some businesses are mandating their installation at their facilities nationwide. More times than not, power saws are perceived as the only means to defeat these devices. This is far from the truth. You can defeat most security bars and gates with a set of conventional irons (eight-pound ax and halligan). Knowledge and familiarity are keys to a positive outcome.

Most of these devices appear more intimidating than they are. Whether they have been installed by professionals or by amateurs, if you know the installation techniques you can efficiently defeat them. It is important to familiarize your crew with the devices that are in your response area.

Some methods of installation are hexagonal lag bolts into the building material (masonry or wood); a metal frame set into the building opening where the device is attached by weld or screw to this framing; a metal “header” plate at the top of the opening that is set into the masonry (usually along the mortar line), then vertical bars are welded to this “header” and sunken into the masonry (brick, mortar, block) at the bottom of the opening; carriage head bolts where the device is securely fastened through building components (studs, exterior walls, and so on); and simply screwed into the opening’s framework.

First, let’s look at using the butt of the ax or the back side of the halligan in a striking fashion against the masonry or welds securing the device. When striking masonry, make contact so that you transfer the energy of the impact to an area of least resistance (photo 1). When attempting to break the weld, it is important to strike the attachment point as close as possible. This will maximize the force necessary to separate the weld itself from the weakest point in the system (photo 2).

(striking tool to chip and break the masonry
(1) Use the “butt” side of the striking tool to chip and break the masonry toward an area of less resistance. Poured-in-place concrete/security bar systems will be more difficult to defeat than other masonry. (Photos 1 and 2 by Samuel Hittle; photos 3 and 4 by author.)  Click on photo to see video.
break welds strike with tool
(2) To efficiently break welds, strike with the “butt” end of the tool as close to the attachment as possible. Click on photo to see video.

In the cases where prying will be advantageous, one key point to keep in mind is to know how the devices are installed. Often, each vertical or horizontal component is not set into the masonry or welded to the frame. The assembly is secured in a particular pattern with every three or more posts being a point of attachment. Knowing this will allow you to make fast work of the device and not waste energy. If prying is the preferred method, be sure to use gravity in addition to leverage (photo 3).

prying bars out of masonry with adz
(3) When prying bars out of masonry or breaking a weld with the adz, position the tool as close to the area as possible to maximize leverage and impact. Click on photo to see video.

If the devices are secured in place using lags, you may elect to use either striking or prying techniques to overcome them. Lags bolts are distinguishable from other style bolts based on their head design. Seeing a hexagonal head on the bolt tells you that it is only secured into the building material; however, seeing a rounded carriage head bolt is indicative that the bolt runs completely through the building material. When striking the attachment, deliver as much impact on the head of the bolt as possible. This will loosen the bolt, allowing the bars or security door to fall out or facilitating an easier prying operation (photo 4).

Striking with tool close attachment point
(4) Striking with the “butt” of the tool as close to the attachment point as possible will maximize impact force to loosen the fastener, allowing the system to fall out or facilitating easier prying. Click on photo to see video.

On devices that have hinges, you have a few options, depending on the type of device. You can attack the hinges themselves by using leverage—prying to defeat the hinges; others may have a “break away” disk over a quarter-turn mechanism, and striking this disk will allow for exterior operation of the mechanism.

Learn what types of high-security devices are in your response area so you will be able to quickly identify them, see how they are attached, and efficiently defeat them without the use of a power saw. This doesn’t negate the value of the saw. Always send for one, but get started with what you have. It may surprise you how effectively and quickly you can use your basic complement of hand tools to remove such devices. Many of the bars and gates will succumb to properly applied leverage, force, and gravity.

ROGER STEGER has more than 17 years of fire service experience and is the deputy chief of the Kentland Volunteer Fire Department in Prince George’s County, Maryland, and a firefighter in the Baltimore (MD) Fire Department. He is an instructor with Traditions Training, LLC; is an adjunct instructor for FDIC H.O.T.; and is presenting at FDIC 2014.

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