February 2011, I transferred to a ladder company, my first time being assigned to a truck. Detroit ladder trucks typically have 6-pound pick head axes and 8-pound sledge hammers on them. I tried both of them on the roof, and my tool of choice became the 6-pound pick head axe. I managed to get my hands on an 8-pound pick head axe and gave that a try. While the extra weight was great for smashing through roofs, the balance was VERY nose heavy, which made it harder to control and also very uncomfortable to carry. Over the summer I was able to attend the Brotherhood Instructors Forcible Entry Ops class held in Independence Twp Michigan, where I used an 8-pound flathead axe, specifically the fire hooks unlimited 8-pound force axe. I really liked the way the axe was balanced. It was easy to control when swinging (in the forcible entry class) and seemed easy to carry. Sometime after the class I purchased my own to use at work. I decided to make some modifications, but with a twist, compared to what I had seen in the Brotherhood Instructor class. First, I wanted to try and put the “notch” that allows the halligan forks to marry with the axe in a location that put both tool handles together, so I could get my hand around both tools. In Detroit, most front door forcible entry is performed by engine companies, so for me, I won’t be carrying a halligan much. So the more important modification I wanted was some kind of overstrike protection for my axe, as it would be used mainly for venting the peak roof of single family dwellings. I had seen small sections of angle iron welded on the bottom of the axe head on the axes used in Gary Fire Dept (Gary, IN). But they were welded with some space between the angle irons and the handle itself. In my opinion, this location for the over strike protection made it very difficult to carry the axe, especially while climbing up ladders etc. So I had a friend TIG weld on some sections of angle iron below the head of the axe, but positioned them right against the handle of the axe, following the axe handle contour. For those of you who have used an axe on a roof to smash a vent hole, you know that often times the axe head will smash through the roof deck and stop on the handle itself, over time break the axe handle right below the axe head itself. Hopefully this modification will add some life to the tool for me.
I know this axe is called an 8-pound force axe, but I think the name sells this tool short. As I mentioned above, I don’t do the majority of forcible entry, as the engine companies often do the front door and Detroit truck companies only carry one halligan, which is mainly carried by the boss of the truck. My main objective as a deckie on the back end is to make the roof and ventilate. The vast majority of the time, I’m using this axe to open single family dwelling roofs. When used in tandem with a saw (chain or rotary), I can use the flat side of the axe to “turn” the boards over on the rafters after they have been cut. Of if there is no saw available (or the roof doesn’t lend itself to using a saw), I can use the blade side of the axe to start a hole (especially on roof decks that have multiple layers of shingles), then can flip over to continue smashing the roof boards.
All in all, this axe is fantastic for forcible entry and makes a great tool for vertical ventilation. With the addition of the over strike protection, hopefully the tool will have a long service life opening roofs!