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Modifying the Halligan

Issue 6 and Volume 10.

One day while in quarters cleaning the tools on the wire wheel, a senior fire officer told me: “A clean tool is a happy tool.” This was his subtle acknowledgment of my efforts and reaffirmed my belief in the importance of this somewhat menial task.

Clean and well-manicured tools have always been the signature of a squared away fire company and a symbol of tremendous company pride. Members in my company will ritualistically clean and manicure their assigned tools at the start of each tour. The belief is that well-maintained tools will not let you down in the battle that lies ahead.

Of all the tools on the rig, the halligan is arguably the most versatile in a firefighter’s arsenal. Whether it’s used for forcible entry, ventilation, breaching, overhaul, or any multitude of fireground tasks, it has lived up to its fine reputation for more than 60 years.

A true halligan is a one-piece, drop-forged, 30-inch steel bar weighing approximately nine pounds. As it stands, a new halligan received by a fire company is typically ready for immediate service. The design features of the standard halligan make it an extremely functional, versatile, and user-friendly tool. There are, however, several modifications that can be made to the standard halligan to improve on its functionality. In this series of articles, I will discuss the various modifications we make on our halligans prior to placing them in service and explain how and why we make these modifications.

Tool Use

Prior to making any modifications, you must determine the intended use of the new tool. This may seem obvious to some, but establishing who will be using the tool and how it will be specifically used will dictate what type of modifications are made.

Will the new halligan become part of the irons (ax and halligan) used primarily by the inside team for forcible entry operations? Or, will it be designated as an outside halligan used primarily by the outside vent person or roof firefighter for ventilation and forcing outward-opening doors?

Basic Modifications

Once the intended usage has been established, you can begin the modification process. For this article, I will be discussing modifications made to an inside halligan. My attention focuses primarily on the fork end of the tool as it applies to inward-opening doors.

The forks on a stock halligan are roughly ¾ inch thick at the base and taper to ¼ inch at the tip. In addition, there is a slight ridge approximately ¼ inch back from the tip (photo 1). To facilitate seamless entry into tight metal door assemblies, try and taper the forks down progressively and remove the ridge. Thinning the forks to 1⁄8 inch at the tip and removing the ridges reduces friction, allowing smoother entry for the forks.

Thinning the forks to reduce their thickness is a tedious process that requires patience and precision. The process is done primarily by hand with a coarse metal file and is painstakingly tedious. Hand-filing is preferred to mechanical devices for two reasons: Hand files allow for more control during the filing process, and mechanical files or grinders tend to generate excessive heat, which could weaken the tempered steel.

To thin the forks to the precise width, use a template to mark exactly how much material is to be removed (photo 2). Mark each fork with an indelible ink marker and file the tool until the markings are no longer visible.

The next step in the process is to add depth gauges to each fork. Depth gauges are placed on the sides of each fork in line with the crotch where the two forks join (photo 3). These markings allow a firefighter to set the forks to a proper depth by aligning the markings with the inner edge of the door jamb (photo 4).

To accurately mark your depth gauge, first draw a line across the inside forks of the tool precisely where the two forks join (photo 5), then simply carry that line down the sides of each fork (photo 6). Once the lines are marked, you can use a triangular file or a whizzer saw to cut the depth gauges into the tool (photo 7).

Improved Use

In this article, I discussed the basic modifications made to the fork end of a halligan. Thinning the forks slightly and removing the ridges near the tip will allow for easier entry into tight door assemblies. Adding depth gauges to the sides of each fork will assist firefighters in setting the tool to the proper depth on inward-opening doors.

With any of these modifications, take your time and avoid using mechanical devices such as grinders or rotary stones. Although hand filing is tedious and time consuming, the end result will be something in which you can take great pride (photo 8). In the next article, I will discuss the process of squaring the shoulders for confined space forcible entry.