If you read this column regularly, you know that we focus on the basics of firefighting and rescue ops. Being able to do the basics well is the trademark of great firefighters and great fire departments.
But let’s be realistic: For a training officer or company officer to successfully keep people motivated to train, you have to mix a little “new” in with the basics. And when I learn a new tip or technique, I’m excited to share it with someone else.
This month’s Quick Drill covers the “baseball swing,” a simple, one-person forcible-entry technique that works great on lot of residential inward-swinging doors.
A Two-Person Job
The single-family residential structure and the multi-family apartment make up the bulk of our firefighting work these days. Incidents in these structures are usually room-and-contents fires that can be handled with some good old-fashioned aggressive firefighting. But before you can get a handline on the seat of the fire, you must make quick entry.
Sometimes personnel on the first handline have to handle the task of getting into the structure; sometimes a member of the truck company is assigned the task of forcing entry for the attack team.
Whoever has the door-entry assignment must carry the right tools with them to get the job done right, and every fire department has weapons of choice based on their response area characteristics. One of the most commonly used tools is a “set of irons”—a Halligan bar and a flat-head axe or maul paired together to form a powerful forcible-entry duo. The problem with using the irons: To use them to their full potential, you need two firefighters, one to hold and manipulate the Halligan bar (the barman), and the other to strike with the flat-head axe as commanded by the barman.
But two firefighters aren’t always assigned to forcible entry; in the first few minutes of an attack, the firefighter assigned the forcible entry duties may have to force the door without help from other crewmembers because they’re performing other tasks, like stretching the hoseline or securing utilities.
Why Not Just Kick It In?
This is about the time that a lot of folks are going to say, “We just kick the front door in, or someone puts a shoulder to it.” I know that’s fun and macho; kicking in a door definitely gives you a rush.
But there are several problems with doing that: First, kicking in a door can injure your knees, ankles or back. Second, when you kick in the door, you often lose control of it. You’ve essentially created a ventilation opening, which can lead to an uncontrolled venting of heat, fire gases and even flame. Remember: Those fire gases and heat follow the path of least resistance, which many times is the opening you just created. If you’ve ever been run off the porch of a house that’s on fire because you lost control of the door, you know what I’m talking about.
The final downfall of kicking in the door is public perception. You don’t see a journeyman carpenter trying to cut boards by chopping them. Of course not; they use the right tools for the job—and so should we.
The Baseball Swing
The “baseball swing” is a Halligan technique that’s performed by one firefighter, without another person having to use the maul. It works best on inward-swinging doors that are set in wooden doorframes. Here’s how it works:
- Position yourself so you have a clear swing at the doorframe, making sure that no one is standing behind you that you could hit on the back swing.
- Swing the Halligan like you would a baseball bat and drive the pike end of the Halligan into the wooden doorframe just high enough so the adz end lines up with any locks on the door.
- By driving the pike into the doorframe, you achieve a pivot point from which you can use the adz to push against the door.
- On right-hand swinging doors, the adz will be pointed up, or in the 12-o’clock position. The length of the bar will give you leverage as you push down on the bar, thereby using the adz to push on the door, forcing it inward.
- On a left-hand swinging door, the adz will be pointed down as you swing, forcing the pike into the doorframe. After you set the pike, you again use the leverage of the bar, but this time you push the bar up, forcing the adz against the door and defeating the locks.
The baseball swing allows you to force the door with a certain amount of control using only one firefighter. It’s a down-and-dirty trick-of-the-trade that’s much safer than attempting to kick doors open.