Why the Framing Square Sucks – By: Chris Collier

The framing square doesn’t actually suck; it’s a great tool if you are building a house.  When it comes to forcible entry, the framing square has no place on the fireground.  The fire service has enough trouble with the basics.  Further diluting the basics with “whiz-bang” tricks like the framing square only accelerates the erosion of what basic skills we have left and instills false hope in tactics that will not always work. 

We all know that there are very very few always and never situations in the fire service.  The framing square technique will work sometimes and the irons will work almost always.  I’m much more comfortable with almost always than sometimes.  The irons also afford us many forcible entry options, a second, third, and in many cases more choices should our first attempt be unsuccessful.  The framing square is a single function tool and that function is only useful sometimes making the likelihood of the framing square technique being successful relatively low. 

Forcing an outward opening door that is only locked by panic hardware is easily done with the irons.  Most panic hardware has a spring loaded latch that is between ¾” and 1” long.  That latch is easily pulled from its receiver when the adz of the Halligan is driven between the door and the door jam.  In many instances the door can be forced at that point in the forcible entry operation.  If the door does not release at that point the tool can be driven in to capture both layers of the door as we would do normally.    When prying on the door at this point the spring loaded latch will either pull out of its receiver or the screws holding the panic hardware to the door will be stripped out of the door.  Long story short, doors locked only with panic hardware are not hard to force and are the only doors the framing square will work on. 

Any additional locking devices other than the panic hardware will make the framing square technique useless.  Business owners know that panic hardware is not a substantial locking device and commonly add additional locks to these doors whether legal or not.  You will not know that this technique will not work on any given door until you try it and when it fails, you will have to switch to the irons.  I would prefer to delete this step that doesn’t always work and start with the irons.  You will be bringing the irons anyway, I hope.  Even if the framing square technique is successful you will still need tools to use after you gain entry. 

Planning to use the framing square requires you to bring two extra tools with you, the square and the saw.  Many times this technique is discussed and planned to be used on the back door of a store or in a strip mall type configuration.  Depending on your department and apparatus you arrive on a saw may or may not be available.  If there are roll down gates I would much rather leave that saw in the front of the building to cut the gates.  If there are no gates that saw would be much better used on the roof or removing window bars than being used to force panic hardware that can be easily done with the irons. 

I’m sure someone is thinking the framing square would be a great way to force a door equipped with an arm-a-door lock.  You are right; it will work great… if that’s the only lock on the door.  If someone is going to spend $800 on an arm-a-door I would bet they have some pretty valuable property to protect.  It would not surprise me at all if there were additional locks on a door like that.  Additionally, from the exterior arm-a-door locks have the same bolt pattern as many drop bars.  I would hate to waste time plunge cutting the door and trying the framing square only to find a wood or metal drop bar instead.  These locks are just as substantial as a drop bar and just as easily defeated. 

My preferred method is to place the pike of the Halligan next to the bolt head and drive the pike through the door with a few hits from the axe.  Once this is done next to all four bolt heads I will set the adz between the door and the jam just like any other outward opening door.  Piercing the door next to each bolt head leaves only a small tab of metal holding the bolt in place.  When the door is pried with the Halligan the small metal tab will tear and the bold head will pull through the door, eliminating the locking device the bolts attached.  This technique will work for both the drop bar and the arm-a-door. 

Some doors equipped with panic hardware are also equipped with a time delay release.  This requires the panic hardware to be pressed for a prescribed amount of time before the door will be open.  Doors that have this feature usually also sound an alarm when the panic hardware is depressed.  This is allowed under fire and building codes in certain situations.  It is often allowed in facilities such as daycare centers and mercantile occupancies.  In a daycare setting this feature allows the employees a short period of time to react before a person (adult or child) who is unable to care for themselves due to age, or physical or mental disability can leave unsupervised.  In mercantile occupancies this feature allows security a short period of time to keep thieves from taking something and ducking out a side or rear door unnoticed.  The time between pressing the panic hardware and the door opening is regulated by local code and can be a minute or more in some instances.  This feature will also negate the effectiveness of the framing square by forcing the firefighter with the square to wait and see if the door opens before moving on to conventional forcible entry tactics. 

These are just a few of the reasons why I do not like the framing square.  In short, this technique is extremely prone to failure and requires extra tools.  I like to stick with what I know will work so when I am confronted with a tough door it will not be my first time forcing a door as it may be if you forced every door previously with the framing square.

Please feel free to comment with your questions or suggestions.  Comments must be signed with your first and last name or department name.  Unsigned comments will not be posted in an effort to prevent useless bashing and keep the discussion focused on learning.


  • I don't think we even carry a framing square on the USAR trucks, so we definitely don't have them on the ladder! Great post.

  • Nice Post. I have heard guys whine about (or not carry at all) the basic tools to perform their job. Ironically, it's also usually the same crowd that is all about the latest gimmicks (aka. shortcuts) to make the job "easier". I appreciate you taking the time to very effectively disprove this gimmick and provide visual aids. Thanks for the strong work. Be Safe.

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We specialize in the basic fundamentals of firefighting. While we believe that hazardous materials, terrorism, emergency medical and the various rescue disciplines are essential parts of the Fire Service, we also think that the basic fundamentals of firefighting have been overlooked in recent years. We are here to help turn that trend in the other direction.

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