The short handled maul is not a new tool in the fire service; it has been the primary striking tool for forcible entry operations for many fire departments for years. Many departments carry a short handled maul as the striking tool in their set of irons. The Syracuse Fire Department being one of them, made some variations to this tool and the way that they carry it. Having a short handled striking tool has several advantages when talking about forcible entry operations; it also has some disadvantages to a longer handled striking tool. One of the biggest advantages is that it is much easier to use in tight and limited spaces, operating on stairs down into basements or the doors at the bottom of Bilco Doors. The disadvantages to this tool are that you cannot swing the tool as hard as you can as with a longer handle; this plays a huge part if some heavy breaching of a block wall or something of that nature is required. Also, the maul is a single functioning tool and cannot be used to hold a purchase during forcible entry operations. Firefighters utilizing the maul must ensure that they have a wedge immediately available to hold the purchase during forcible entry operations.
In today’s fire service most of the new firefighters that get hired are young and straight out of school with a degree in fire science. This was not always the case when it came to hiring firefighters. Years gone by, most firefighters, while they where waiting to get on the fire department went to work in local mills, factories, and in the trades (iron worker, plumber, pipe fitter, construction, etc.). When these workers finally got the word that they would be starting their career in the fire service, they brought invaluable experience with them from their previous jobs. This experience sometimes would translate into tools that these workers used in their previous jobs; this is where the short handled maul most likely got it origins in the fire service. Anyone who knows anything about the Iron workers trade will probably recognize the short handled maul set up that the Syracuse Fire Department utilizes because the Iron workers trade has been using this type of set up for decades. A big part of working on the high steel erecting bridges and skyscrapers is banging in drift pins to line up bolt and rivet holes, workers needed a striking tool with enough weight to supply a good “drive” but needed it to be easy to carry and easy to swing. Cutting a standard 8-12 lbs maul down was a logical step and gave the workers the tool they needed. Using a heavy striking tool like this hundreds of feet above street level and other workers could be a serious problem if it was dropped so workers would add a small piece of rope to the end that they could loop over their wrist so if they ever lost their grip the tool would not go plummeting to earth killing anyone in it’s way. Like so many other tools and techniques for different trades, the short handled maul made its way into the fire service and is utilized by many different fire departments now.
The maul must be heavy like any striking tool used for forcible entry operations, a 10 or 12 lbs head should be the standard of any maul. The handle has been cut down to 20 inches. Hockey tape has been added to the end to ensure a slip free grip. One thing that the Syracuse Fire Department has added to make this tool a little more “user friendly” is a short piece of prussic chord or rope through the handle of the maul. This loop of accessory chord is placed around the wrist and used for dragging the tool while searching; this leaves your hands free for feeling for any victims.
Carrying the Maul
Because of the con’s of the short handled maul, it will never replace the regular 8 lbs forcible entry axe, but on Rescue Company 1 in Syracuse, the fire fighter assigned to carry the axe can bring the short handled maul in conjunction with the standard forcible entry axe. On Rescue Company 1, the crew is split up into 3 teams. Teams 1 and 2 are assigned to search the fire floor and the floor above. Both teams are made up of 2 firefighters, and the 3rd team is made up of 2 firefighters and the officer that perform outside truck duties as needed (i.e. ladders, secondary egress, utilities, and are the RIT or FAST). In team 1 and 2, the senior firefighter is assigned to carry the halligan bar (and hydra ram as needed), while the junior firefighter is assigned to carry the forcible entry axe, the long handled maul (as required), or the short handled maul (as required). The decision to bring the maul can depend on several different factors including, location of the fire, building construction type, and assignment of your crew. If your crew shows up to a large 2 ½ story frame and indicators on the exterior of the building tip you off that a multiple dwelling is present (fire escape, multiple addresses on the same building, multiple mail boxes, etc.) knowing that there may be basement apartments or many apartments with locked doors and very narrow hallways present may dictate that the short handled maul should be brought. After entry is forced and the search begins, the short handled maul can be dragged using the accessory chord loop as mentioned before, or the maul can be left at the door to the room or area being searched, serving as a landmark to the team and a great door chock also. Just remember….. It is better to bring it and not need it than need it and not have it.
The short handled maul is a great tool in the proper situations and is a great addition to your forcible entry tools. It will never replace longer handled forcible entry tools but can come in extremely handy in certain situations. Remember that tools are only the smallest component of forcible entry… knowledge, experience, and training is the biggest part of the forcible entry success equation. Constantly pushing yourself and your crews with new challenges in training will best prepare you all for any situation that you and your crews might encounter.