Forcible Entry Tool Modifications – By Andrew Brassard

Since the existence of the fire service firefighters have been constantly trying to improve themselves and the tools they work with to adapt to the challenges that their communities present. This article is going to cover some of the basic tool modifications that firefighters have been utilizing for years. The majority of these modifications where spawned in smoky hallways and the backsides of taxpayers by members of the FDNY, the author is not taking credit for any of these modifications…… simply passing on the word.

Marrying up your Irons

Many departments use marrying straps to keep the axe and halligan together, some of these straps can be very simple or quite elaborate with built in shoulder straps and other fancy gadgets that all glow in the dark. The problem with these straps is that they usually don’t hold the tools together very well or can be very difficult to undo in zero visibility with your firefighting gloves on. A better solution for marrying these tools together is to use a hand file to notch out a very small path for the halligan forks to go, after the notch is created simply place the halligan forks into the notch and then give it a quick hit into the ground setting the halligan onto the axe.

Note: even though the tools are “locked” together you should

never fully trust that they will always hold together. Always use proper carrying techniques especially while climbing ladders.

One of the most common questions I get about doing this to your tools is “won’t that weaken the integrity of the axe?” The answer is yes it will weaken the integrity of the axe!! But think about it realistically, it would still take thousands and thousands of pounds of force to cause that axe to break and if you pushed the tool to that extreme the handle would break first.

The Sledgehammer Bracket

The sledgehammer is another favorite striking tool of firefighters. The sledgehammer should be at least ten or twelve pounds for effective striking. The biggest problem that the sledgehammer has is that it does not marry very well with the halligan; this is easily corrected by simply welding a bracket onto the top of the sledgehammer for the adz of the halligan to slide through. This will help hold the position of the halligan but will not keep the two from falling apart.

In my own opinion the flatheaded axe is a far more superior tool and gives the user a lot more options when it comes to forcible entry, the sledgehammer is a single functioning tool and can have its limitations in forcible entry. That being said the sledgehammer goes through brick and masonry much better than the 8 pound axe, if your response district has a lot of bricked up vacant buildings or is primarily commercial buildings the halligan sledgehammer combo works nicely.

The biggest thing when it comes to forcing a door is technique, if your technique is lacking, having a bigger and heavier tool is not going to help you get through a door quicker it will probably cause you to hurt yourself or your partner.

Squared off Shoulder

For any firefighter that has ever forced a door in zero visibility they know that it can be a challenging task, one of the best tool modifications I have ever seen is squaring of the shoulder of the halligan. By squaring off the shoulder of the halligan you create a striking surface to dive the halligan in between the door and the jamb in zero visibility without risking striking your partner with the axe or sledgehammer.

Another excellent place where this modification will pay dividends is in very tight or narrow hallways; depending on the swing of the door you may not have enough room to swing your striking tool effectively. For this method to work well place the fork in between the door and the jamb (after gaping the door) and place both hands at the back of the adz and push the tool into the door, slide the striking tool down the shaft of the halligan striking the squared off shoulder. This method works excellent but the technique must be practiced often and under realistic conditions to be effective and efficient on the fireground.

Chain Link

A simple method for ventilating windows in high rise or multiple dwelling is by ventilating the windows from the roof. By welding a chain link on your halligan close to the fork you now have a place that you can attach a carabineer and piece of rope to. After you have attached the rope simply lower the halligan to the window that needs venting, mark the spot on the rope with your hand and haul the rope and halligan back to the roof. After you get the halligan back into your hands you can throw the halligan off the roof, when the rope goes tight the halligan will swing back in towards the building breaking the glass. This is an extremely effective way to ventilate windows at fires in multiple dwellings.

These are a couple of easy modifications that you can do to your tools that will make them more effective on the fireground.


  • Kent Riddell says:

    I would be concerned with altering any tool, and would be very concerned about sending a halligan through a window that may have someone on the other side.

  • chad dailey says:

    Concerned about altering tools! We (firefighters) invented these tools and continue to modernize the fire service. Things are constantly changeing(building constr. etc) and we have to addapt to these changes, who else is going to do it? Everything we have and use is a work in progress, if we were to sit back and wait for modern industry to design and test tools for us we would be using tree axes and sledge hammers.

    • Corin Meehan says:

      I agree. The 30" Pro-Bar, the standard Halligan for FDNY and many other departments, evolved because firefighters in individual companies took the original Halligan and tuned it to THEIR use. It's rare to find a Halligan in service these days that is the original design…

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