The Proper Use of an Ax in ”Opening Up”
The Volunteers Corner
One of the most useful tools in the fire service is the ax. Its uses are limited only by the imagination of the user.
There are two types of axes—the flat head and the pick head, the latter being the most common in the fire service. The advantage of the flat head ax is that once the blade has been positioned, the head can be pounded with another tool, such as a hammer-headed pick, a maul or a claw tool.
The pick-type ax has a flat surface that can be pounded, but this requires a little more care. The pickax does have certain advantages, however, which we will soon discuss.
In forcible entry, the ax is a basic tool. Most doors, unless they are extremely heavy or heavily barred on the inside, can be opened with an ax.
If a door opens toward the inside, the stop strip first must be pried off with the ax blade. Then the blade is inserted in the space between the door edge and the jamb near the lock. By holding the ax by the pick and the end of the handle, enough leverage can usually be exerted to spread the jamb away from the door. This allows the latch or deadbolt to clear the strike plate.
Outward-opening doors, because they have no stop strip on the outside, can be opened with much less effort. Also, these doors often have loose-pin hinges on the outside. If the door is difficult to open you can use the ax blade to lift up the hinge pins. Then the door can be removed by prying between the hinge side of the door and the jamb.
Double doors that open outward have a weather molding over the center opening. This must first be pried off with the ax before you can insert the blade between the two doors.
Overhead garage doors cannot be pried open with an ax, but you can use an ax to break a panel or piece of glass next to the lock; then you can reach inside and release the lock.
If regular doors cannot be pried open, you can knock out glass or a panel nearest the lock and reach inside to unlock the door.
This is a good time to stress one rule that fireground experience shows is sometimes forgotten: Tnj the latch before forcing the door. The door might be unlocked! This rule also holds for windows.
Double-hung windows can be opened in two ways: You can knock out a pane of glass next to the lock, reach in and unlock the window. Or you can insert the ax blade between the sill and the lowest part of the sash and pry upward, holding the ax by the pick and the lower part of the handle. Pressure will usually force the window catch screws out of the wood and the window can then be pushed up all the way.
When breaking glass, there is a safe way to use an ax—or a claw tool or a pike pole. Hold the end of the handle high and then let the head of the tool fall downward against the glass. This prevents shards of glass from sliding down the handle and cutting your hand.
When chopping a hole through a floor, cut close to the beams and perpendicular to the length of the boards. A cut near a beam will eliminate the bounce you may encounter farther away and each blow will do more cutting. After the boards have been cut on each end, the pick end of the pickax can be used to pry the boards loose from the roof rafters or floor beams.
This same technique is used in choirping through a roof. Before chopping a wooden roof deck you first must remove the roof covering. Asphalt shingles can be pulled loose with the pick head. Start at the top of the area and work down. The shingles will come off easier. Slate or asbestos shingles will break loose from blows with the flat side of the ax.
Built-up tar roofing must also be removed before cutting the wooden deck. Here again, the pick is handy to cut an outline of the hole. Then the covering can be pulled away with the pick.
Tin and copper roofs should be opened up with tin roof cutters. But when you don’t have any, an ax blade will cut through the metal. Here the technique is to cut through the metal on three sides of the hole’s perimeter. Then roll tire metal back a short way by inserting the pick under the free end. After you get a slight roll, punch the pick through the top of the roll and pull the metal clear of the hole. Flatten out the metal by stepping on it to keep it clear of the area where you are going to chop.
In opening up a roof hole, try to keep the wind at your back and start prying boards farthest from you. In this way. the hot gases released will be blown away from you as you work.
Like all other tools, axes work best when properly cared for. The handles should be varnished or rubbed with linseed oil. On varnish water forms in droplets. Power men tell me current is less apt to run from droplet to droplet. Varnish also keeps wood dry and the drier the wood, the less chance of conductivity.
Paint should never be used, except perhaps for a short company identification color strip. Water will tend to run in a continuous stream on a painted surface and aid the transmission of electricity it your ax should hit a live wire.