The Halligan Bar – By: Rob Fisher

An excellent history lesson on the halligan sent to us by Lt. Rob Fisher from Snohomish County, WA.

One of the most versatile pieces of equipment used by the fire service today is the Halligan bar.  This tool has a rich history surrounding it.  To many, the tool has been considered one of the greatest advancements in the fire service.  Any great fireman would tell you if there was one tool they could take to work any job it would be the Halligan.

But, why is that the case?  And, where did it come from?

The Halligan was invented in the 1940’s by Deputy Chief Hugh A. Halligan of FDNY.

Hugh A. Halligan was first appointed to the FDNY on June 16, 1916.  He had worked countless jobs on some of FDNY’s busiest engines and ladder trucks as a fireman and later as a captain.  In this time, Chief Halligan worked with the Halligan bar’s two predecessors – The Kelly tool and the Claw tool.

The Claw tool was considered to be one of the first forcible entry tool used by FDNY.  This tool had been used on the job since the early 1920’s and was difficult to use.  As most had discovered through painful experience, the Claw Tool was heavy and the striking surface was off-centered, making it very dangerous for any firefighter holding it as it was driven into the door.

Then, a captain from Ladder Company 163, John Kelly, designed the next generation of forcible entry tool to be used by FDNY.  Naturally, it was called the Kelly tool.  This new tool did not have the large hook with the offset striking surface.  The striking surface was inline with the entire bar and had a 90? flat surface (the adz) to the end.

The Kelly tool had a couple of downfalls; like the Claw tool it too was welded and still too heavy.  And, in those days, firefighters needed to bring both tools to the building due to their specific advantages.  Chief Halligan wanted to design a tool that could be held in one hand; one that would not chip or break at a critical moment; a tool that would not fatigue a firefighter; and one that could be used with safety and full efficiency.  After many hours of “trial and error” the Halligan bar was born.

The Halligan bar was made of cross-drop forged from one piece of No. 4140 (high carbon content) steel, weighed 8 ½ lbs.  Comprised of an adz, pick, and fork, the Halligan would prove to be one of the greatest forcible entry tools ever made.  The standard issue bar is approximately 30” in length, with a 15/16” shaft shaped into a hexagon for grip.  The fork is a minimum of 6” long taper into two well beveled tines.  Spacing between the tines allows for a gas valve to be shut off. The adz has a gentle curve for additional leverage, with a beveled end.  In addition to being used to break something, the pick and adz – only when properly used – provide protection to the arms, hands, and body of the holder during forcible entry operations.

As soon as the tool went on the market it was a huge success.  The Boston Fire Department was one of the first to place the Halligan bar on every ladder company in their department.

Now…one would naturally think FDNY had been the first to have them issued to their ladder companies.  Unfortunately, there was a small problem.  It was determined by those in higher places – let’s just say their favorite colors were white and gold – that there was a “conflict of interest” to have a member of the department selling tools or equipment back to the department in which they worked in.  The department’s hands were tied and the bars could not be purchased.  However, the bars could be purchased by anyone other than the department itself.  Ladder companies across the city began purchasing the Halligan bars with their own money.  The first company in FDNY to receive one was Ladder Company 47.  Coincidentally, they were the first due ladder to Chief Halligan’s home in Parkchester, NY.

The 2nd generation and later Halligan bars were printed on the forks with what looks like AM+D6.  It is, however, believed to be AMDG, which is a Latin acronym for Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam or “for the greater glory of God.”  This Latin phrase was a favorite of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus. Pope John Paul II routinely used it in his writings.  He would print AMDG in the top left of every page he wrote.

Chief Halligan was a very religious man.  It has been told that he would hand make a rosary for each new member coming into the FDNY.  After this task became too overwhelming, it was thought that Chief Halligan turned his religious influences into his bars by having each one printed with AM+DG.  This way he could spread the word to even more.

Folklore…wishful thinking…either way it’s a great story.  Only Hugh himself knows the true meaning behind this Hieroglyphics.  Who cares…the bar speaks for itself!

Most departments who carry the Halligan bar really don’t understand the value of this tool.  Unfortunately, too many of us do not get enough opportunities to become confident and proficient in the bar’s use.

Reading this article has only helped you understand the history of the Halligan bar.  To better understand why it’s the tool of choice of many firefighters (firemen), one must go to their engine or ladder, take it off…hold it…caress it, detail it and work with it.  Never set it down.  Bring it everywhere you go.  You’ll be surprised how many uses there are for this tool. Then – and only then – will they truly understand the impact the Halligan bar has made in the fire service.


  • Firemedic1371 says:

    One of the important things in the fire service is to understand our history. It makes it very difficult to move forward when you don't know where we came from and this article is a great example of a simple but extremely important history of a tool that has definitely left its mark on the fire service.

    Great job Rob!

  • J Martin says:

    My favorite tool, as well.

    Read something in the FDNY FE Guide that Chief Halligan took the Kelly tool and combined it with, or was inspired by, a burglar's tool found at a wall collapse job.

    Yes: "Folklore…wishful thinking…either way it’s a great story. "

    See you @ Indy.

  • Mark says:

    i must have missed something..what do AM +DG stand for?

    • Rob Fisher says:


      Hey brother…on the true Halligan bars, not the Pro-Bar or any other Halligan type bar, AM+D6 is printed on the fork. It is believed to actually be AMDG, which is a Latin acronym for Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam or “for the greater glory of God.”

  • Fintan Burns says:

    Great article on a formidable tool. It's a recent addition to our dept's inventory so we're still becoming familiar with its versatility. Is it true that Capt Halligan got his inspiration from a forged tool found in the burnt out ruins of a bank vault used by the arsonists to gain entry?

  • Fretsoffire says:

    Great story. I especially loved the tool on car fires. One solid swing of the pick to the hood, spread with the adze, then pull pack on the bar, and spray. It came in handy too on a few errant Code 3 driving expeditions, where a dented bumper or two needed realignment. LOL

    As one part of the "Set of Irons", the Halligan tool is a Truckie's right hand man!

  • Tiger Schmittendorf says:

    Great article and story Rob!

    My good friend Chief Walter Pieczynski has an interesting connection to the Halligan family and some interesting stories and photos about the history of this tool and its maker.

    Check out his story at:

    And, FireMedic1371 is right about the need to understand fire service history before we can go bolting off into the future. That's what Run-to-the-Curb and is all about.

    Great job guys!

  • ricardo says:

    thank you for sharing this history i learn a lot for this one….thanks you very much so i can share this to my brother in fire department

  • Rob H says:

    And here, down under in Australia, as soon as it was introduced to replace the “buster bars” our convict heritage came out and they are now nearly universally known as hooligan tools.

  • ARFF Chief says:

    I actually was honored to meet Chief Halligan when he stopped in at my volunteer fire house in NJ when I was a kid. It was an honor then to be able to meet somone who made such a difference in all of our lives!!

  • ex-Bronxite says:

    It's interesting that Ladder 47 in the Bronx was mentioned here, as Halligan gave a number of his tools (yes, there were others) to L. 47 initial for a try-out by the firemen there before he mass-manufactured them. He actually used their firehouse as the pick-up point for FDNY companies who purchased their own Halligan tools. As a young kid and buff in 47, I was always surprised to see other companies at fires come over to 47 and point to a tool, which I took for granted having seen it there for so long, and have them ask, "What's that?" I just assumed everyone had one…or the other…until one of the fellows filled me in on Halligan.

    • dick orsini says:

      i served in 47 before i went to rescue 3 and the guy that helped halligan make the tool was named howie wanser a huge firefighter from rescue 3 the idea was strictly halligans but the welding and metalurgy was wonsers, during ww2 howie taught women how to weld in the shipyards ciao rich orsini

      • ken carroll says:

        rich orsini?….can't be the same guy…did you ever work for harlem truckers and riggers?…if so, thanks to you i got on fdny in 69, went to 55 truck

  • AC1503 says:

    The Halligan bar pictured, with HALLIGAN, in block letters is a later version by Chief Halligan. The originals had his script signature, Hugh A. Halligan, forged into one tine of the fork. I have one with block letters and two with his signature. Your explanation of the AM+DG is correct, except the + represents the Cross of Jesus. My information came directly from Chief Halligan's grandson. He received it from his father, the Chief's son. That's good enough proof for me! I'm still looking for an original Kelly tool and always for more "real" Halligan bars for my forcible entry tool collection that includes a Claw tool, a Detroit door opener, and a Hux bar, .

  • Dennis J Dale says:

    My father worked with Hugh Halligan in 26 truck in harlem. The kelly and the claw tools were too heavy so Halligan intergrated both tools into one and made it much lighter . The tool was accepted in tenement areas because most doors could be easily forced, midtown trucks stayed with the old heavier tools because of Fox Locks and double Fox Locks. Lt. McLoughlin of L.2 copied the tool but made it heavier to cope with the midtown doors. He also came up with the K Tool at the same time. Dennis J Dale R1 retired

  • Bill H says:

    I work in 47 Truck now. Our centennial is in November 2013. Any further info related to 47 and the Halligan, or anything else interesting would be appreciated

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