Mid-Atlantic Rescue Systems, Inc.

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Forcible Entry

Instructing forcible entry techniques isn’t as much about the practical methods as it is about a mindset; it's about thinking about the best way to gain entry to a building or vehicle as safely and efficiently as possible. This is not to say that a firefighter doesn’t have to practice forcing open a door with a set of irons or using a key to unlock the exterior doors of a grounded elevator. As mentioned, those are practical skills that need repetition to form muscle memory. No, forcible entry is more about maintaining your composure because ultimately when a firefighter “loses it” and relies more on brute force rather than intelligence and leverage, then the process of gaining access takes longer. That not only puts potential victims in more danger, but also themselves as firefighters end up using more energy and resources including air from their cylinders.

Realistically, there is only one reason why forcible entry is necessary and that is to extract a potential victim from smoke and/or fire. So, in any given forcible entry scenario the stakes are automatically high and it can be easy to lose your focus. So, how then would a fire instructor go about teaching forcible entry emphasizing intelligence and cunning versus brute force? More importantly, how would an instructor then make the connection so that firefighters realize that using intelligence and leverage almost always guarantees a focused attack. There are two main branches to emphasize; the practical aspect being the first, and the second highlights thinking under duress. Although both can be taught separately, they intertwine in a positive feedback model and build off one another.   

Relative to the practical side there really aren't many limits to not only the skills taught, but also the format in which they are presented. The reason for this is the seemingly endless tools at our disposal to gain access. For example, an instructor can set up stations in one drill where a lock board with several types of locks that would necessitate a K-tool kit can be balanced with several other stops like using a K12 saw to cut rebar to simulate a wrought iron gate or bars around windows. Of course, no forcible entry drill would be complete without a door simulator for firefighters to practice prying open a door using a set of irons. Still, forcible entry can also be taught in a series of drills teaching to mastery one skill or tool at a time.

A cautionary note here is warranted and that is to make sure that any forcible entry lesson plans and drills match what firefighters in your district are likely going to encounter. Rural residential districts likely will not have bars on the windows as much as an urban situation, and so why develop a forcible entry drill that has little if any application. Awareness is great and necessary, but practicality is going to be the order of the day. Obviously, when skills are practiced to mastery when they are put into play, firefighters are going to be able to stay focused on their task fully knowing they have what it takes to get the job done.      

Enter the second branch that is arguably the more difficult aspect to instruct; using the most important and effective tool available to firefighters, i.e. your brain. We have all heard the phrase “try before you pry”. Whereas the practical application of this phrase is simply to try the door knob before you use a Halligan and flathead ax to force and bust open the front door it can also be interpreted another way. This popular expression can also translate to “think before you break”. Granted in a forcible entry situation firefighters may not have the luxury of time, it still needs to be emphasized that the best method to gain access is thinking.   

When faced with a forcible entry situation, thinking (try) before acting (pry) will have the effect of helping to keep your composure. Think first, devise a plan and then act on it accordingly. Ultimately, your forcible entry technique should match the situation. For example, blocking your access is an eight-foot driveway gate. Plan one (“TRY”) could be trying the lock or if possible, using a key from a knox box while plan two (“PRY”) could be using an A-frame ladder to get over it fast and efficiently and on your way to your victim or a K12 saw to cut the lock or hinges. Even if your first plan fails, maintaining the ability to think and quickly devising a second plan is not only crucial for any given situation, it is also crucial for an instructor while training firefighters to demonstrate the importance of staying calm and the connection between and how thinking (trying before prying) begets staying poised and in control.

Although the emphasis here has been to think, keep in mind that being aggressive is also acceptable, depending on the situation. It should be “intelligently aggressive”. For example, leverage is better than strength and knowing your tools and where they are on your truck is better than bringing the wrong tool or not being able to find the correct tool.

Last note is to check out the video at this link: https://youtu.be/bmBFaD3roRs. What is most remarkable is how calm the firefighter involved is throughout the situation. Think, try before you pry, staying calm as a result and get the job done safely.

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JOSEPH CEACorrespondent

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