Roll-down gates are a common security feature on commercial establishments that have been challenging firefighters for decades. Regardless of whether your response area is considered urban, suburban, or rural, the likelihood is that you have gates somewhere in your district. Having a good working knowledge on the different styles of gates, the different types of gates, and the various locking mechanisms will allow you to defeat this security system and gain entry in a timely manner.
In part one of this three-part series, I am going to explain the different style of gates (solid, open, perforated) as well as the different types of gates (manual, mechanical, electric) typically encountered in the field today. Understanding the different styles and types of gate you encounter is going to assist you in determining the tactics used to perform forcible entry. Knowing how each gate operates, how they are secured, and how they are best defeated are critical size-up points that firefighters need to possess to gain entry in an efficient and effective manner.
Typically firefighters will encounter one of the three most common gates commercially available. A solid gate consists of interlocked pieces of solid corrugated steel known as slats (photos 1 and 2). Solid gates are the original style of roll-down security devices dating back to the 1930s. The original devices were known as security grilles or mall grills, and their popularity increased through the years as urban blight overtook many communities.
Another common gate is the open-style gate known as a roll-down grille curtain. The industry name for this device is the rod & link gate. As the name implies, these gates consist of 5⁄16-inch horizontal hot dipped galvanized steel rods and PVC sleeves with 1¾-inch vertical aluminum links (photo 3). You may also encounter a combination style gate consisting of both solid and rod & link features (photo 4).
A relative newcomer to the roll-down security gate world is the open pattern or perforated rolling gate (photo 5). These gates are becoming more popular because many municipalities have changed code standards regarding roll-down gates. For example, in the city of New York, the administrative code includes new standards that require storefront security gates to provide at least 70 percent visibility to deter graffiti and improve local aesthetics. The perforated gates are constructed of aluminum or 20-gauge galvanized steel, making them extremely durable while providing increased visibility into the establishment’s storefront. Perforated gates are constructed in a similar manner to the solid gate where the interlocking slats are the same design, only perforated for improved aesthetics.
In addition to different gate styles, there are three different types of gates we are likely to encounter. Manual gates typically range between three and 10 feet in width and are used to cover entry doors and small storefront windows. As the name implies, these gates are raised and lowered manually using a lift handle attached to the bottom of the gate. They are easily recognized by the absence of any raising mechanism housing at the drum level (photo 6).
Mechanical gates are typically larger, ranging in size from10 to 20 plus feet wide. They are used to cover larger storefront display windows. Because of their increased size, mechanical gates are raised and lowered using a chain hoist assembly (photo 7). They are easily recognized by the gear and chain mechanism located in the housing at the top of the door alongside the drum (photo 8). The chain extends down alongside the door but is covered with a vertical length of angle iron (photo 9). The vertical length of angle iron housing the hoist chain is often secured shut with a high-security padlock, which must be cut to access the chain.
Electronically operated gates were typically used for larger openings in excess of 20 feet and in commercial establishments housing high-end merchandise. Recently, electronic gates have become more affordable and are now available in smaller sizes, making them common on various commercial structures (photo 10). Electric gates are operated by a motor contained in the large metal housing located on the outside of the installation adjacent to either side of the drum (photo 11). The large motor housing is a good indicator as to the type of gate we are dealing with.
Other indicators of an electric gate are the remote key switch used to activate the gate and the lack of high-security padlocks securing the gate. The key switch is typically found on the building wall on either side of the gate and is often secured in a locked metal box (photos 12 and 13). Electric gates have a chain driven mechanical backup system installed to allow for gate operation in the event of a power failure. The chain and drive are typically located in the area of the motor housing and can be activated by disengaging the electric motor.
Having a good working knowledge as to the styles and types of gates located in your response area is a critical size-up feature for successful forcible entry. The characteristics and components of a solid gate are vastly different from a rod & link style, as are the techniques used to force entry. Likewise, having the ability to differentiate an electric gate from a mechanical gate and determining the proper method of entry at a working fire is a critical skill firefighters need to possess.
Take the time to survey your response area and identify locations with roll-down gates when you are out on the road. A great 20-minute drill can have you and your members identify the style and type of gate and discuss your options for forcible entry before the fire.
In part two, I will discuss the locking mechanisms and security features associated with the various gates and explain the best methods of forcible entry for each of them.