In last month’s issue, I wrote about tool alterations and modifications that can be made prior to placing the tools in service. In the second part of this series of articles, I am going to discuss circumstances that can challenge firefighters during forcible entry and the modifications that can be made to a halligan to assist us when confronted with these types of situations.
Forcible Entry Challenges
When firefighters are confronted with limited visibility or a restricted workspace, conventional forcible entry can become very difficult. One example would be forcing a door on the floor above the fire. Because of the smoke condition, visibility on the floor above will be limited, and coordinating forcible entry will be extremely challenging.
Another example would be forcing a door in a restricted workspace. These restrictions usually come in the form of extended door framework (photo 1), a wall (photo 2), or a building’s aesthetics and design (photo 3). Whatever the restriction may be, the effects they have on the striking member’s backswing are prohibitive to successful forcible entry.
If the striking member cannot generate enough power to drive the tool into place, the door will not be forced (photo 4). To overcome this problem, we can modify the halligan to create a secondary striking surface designed specifically for the aforementioned situations.
To set the forks of the halligan in limited visibility or when space is restricted, the striking member is forced to slide the ax along the shaft of the tool and strike the shoulder area just above the forks (photo 5). This technique can be difficult with a stock halligan because the shoulders on a stock tool are rounded, which doesn’t allow for a true strike (photo 6).
By making a fairly simple modification to the shoulders, you can create a true striking surface to drive the forks into place. The objective of this modification is to remove the rounded shoulder area and create a 90-degree striking surface (photo 7).
There a several ways to accomplish this modification. I have tried several techniques, from manual filing to mechanical saws, with varying degrees of success. It is important, regardless of the technique you choose, to mark the area prior to beginning the process. Using a speed square and a level, mark the shoulder area with a permanent marker to create a 90-degree angle (photo 8). This marking will serve as a guide when squaring the shoulder area. Use caution when using a mechanical device so you don’t make your cuts too deep, as doing so could potentially weaken the tool.
Using a coarse metal file, you can take the shoulder down to create the striking surface. This is a decent technique, but it is very tedious and painstakingly slow (photo 9). Another option is to use a hacksaw or sawzall with a metal blade to cut a chunk out of the shoulder. By laying the tool horizontally in a vise you can make the inward cut down toward the shaft (photos 10 and 11). Next, lay the saw on the shaft to make the downward cut that creates the rough notch (photos 12 and 13). Once the notch is removed, you can use a coarse file and a wire wheel to square the 90-degree angle and smooth the rough edges.
Another option for squaring the shoulder is using the air-powered whizzer saw or the rotary saw with an aluminum oxide blade. I have tried both of these techniques with varied degrees of success. The whizzer saw worked well on the initial inward cut toward the shaft, allowing this cut to be made in a fairly quick and controlled manner (photo 14). However, the downward cut along the shaft went in on a slight inward angle instead of going straight down because of the guard on the saw and the rigid blade design (photo 15).
I encountered the same problem using the rotary saw with an aluminum oxide disk. The rigid blade was unable to make the downward cut cleanly to form the 90-degree angle. In addition, the saw was very difficult to control, which made precision cuts very difficult to accomplish.
After extensive trial and error, and several misshapen shoulders, I discovered what I consider to be the most effective way to square the shoulders on a halligan. Using a portable band saw with a variable speed throttle and metal cutting blade, I was able to make precision cuts every time. The variable speed allows you extreme control when making the cuts, and the flexible blade allows you the ability to hug the shaft on your downward cut, creating the perfect 90-degree striking angle.
Start by placing the halligan horizontally in the vise to make the initial cut in toward the shaft (photo 16). Next rotate the tool 90 degrees to the vertical position with the fork end secured in the vise. Place the saw directly on the shaft using the natural flex in the blade and perform the downward cut toward the forks (photo 17). What you are left with is a perfect 90-degree striking surface (photo 18).
Squaring the shoulders on your halligan is a simple modification that will come in handy when you encounter limited visibility or a restricted work area. Having a secondary striking surface allows the striking member to slide the ax head along the shaft of the halligan and deliver the force required to set the tool in tight spaces.
In the next article, I will discuss modifications made to the adz end that will assist in forcing outward-opening doors.