Inspection and maintenance of all tools on your apparatus on a daily basis is vital to ensuring that they are battle ready and will not fail you when you need them most. One tool that requires special and frequent inspection and maintenance is the Hydraulic Forcible Entry Tool (HFET), more commonly known as the Hydra Ram. This tool is a great addition to your forcible entry tool cache and can come in very handy if you must force multiple doors and can be advantageous during zero visibility or tight spaces forcible entry operations. A lot of misconceptions about the checking procedures for the Hydra Ram exist. When we are out teaching we always ask students “who checks there HFET on a daily or weekly basis?” Almost all of the students answer “yes,” but when we ask the student “how do you check it” the answers vary and some of the major misconceptions about checking these tools surface. The way that the Hydra Ram is maintained can cause your tool to fail when you need it the most.
One of the big misconceptions is checking the tool without putting it under a “load”. Most firefighters will take the HFET out of the compartment, pump it up, retract the jaws and put it back on the truck. This does not push the mineral oil up into the gaskets to keep them moist and prevents them from cracking. If the seals in the hydraulic tool dry out they will tend to crack or become very brittle. Then, when you go to use the HFET during an actual forcible entry operation the weakened seal will fail under pressure. This is probably the most common problem that causes HFET failure. This becomes especially important during winter months when the cold weather tends to dry out rubber even quicker than normal. To check the tool under “load” simply place the jaws in-between the jaws on a bench vise and pump up the tool until the HFET jaws are snug against the jaws of the bench vise. It is vital that you only pump the tool until there is slight tension in the handle of the HFET. WARNING: If you pump the HFET too much you will cause the bench vise to fail which could cause serious injury!! Other methods that I have seen for checking the HFET include putting they jaws under the soda machine or in-between sewer grates. How ever you do it is fine, just remember to put the tool under some tension to get the mineral oil to lubricate the gaskets. Finding out at an apartment fire that the gasket is dried out or the tool has failed after a few pumps is not a good idea……especially when you have 10 apartment doors to force!
One other problem that lies within the daily maintenance of the HFET is that a firefighter will fully extend the piston fully, and then over-lubricate the piston. This is a good practice but you must watch what product you are using to perform this lubrication. When applying a lubricant stay away from flammable products. The reason for this is that flammable lubricants (WD-40, ZEP, etc) typically contain toluene. Toluene causes major and rapid deterioration of rubber. All of the seals in the HFET are made of rubber. When applying a lubricant try to find something that is non-flammable, apply the lubricant to the piston and then wipe the access off with a rag.
Hydraulic forcible entry tools are a great addition to your forcible entry arsenal but it is a piece of machinery and is very susceptible to failure. Proficiency in the use of the Irons can never be over emphasized. Hydraulic forcible entry tools have their place, but can never replace a well trained, disciplined, and aggressive pair of firefighters with a set of irons. Hydraulic forcible entry tools should enhance your conventional forcible entry operations…. Not completely change them.
“If you can’t force every door in your district with a set of irons, you should not be allowed to touch the hydra ram” – Captain Robert Morris, FDNY Rescue 1
Use these quick tips and tricks to ensure that your tools are battle ready the next time the tones go off.