In the third installment of this three-part series, I will discuss some of the determining factors firefighters can use to decide on the appropriate entry tactics for roll-down security gates and will focus on the various techniques used for cutting the different style gates.
Firefighters typically arrive on scene at commercial building fires during the overnight, nonbusiness hours. These occupancies are usually equipped with roll-down gates secured with high-security padlocks. The focal point of initial fire department operations is centered on entry, and all other fireground functions hinge on it being effective and efficient. In determining the best method to gain entry, firefighters must make a rapid but thorough size-up of the entry challenge prior to selecting their tactical means of operation. In conducting their size-up, firefighters should consider the style and type of gate present, the number and type of locks securing the gates, and the fire conditions potentially impacting the gate. Based on their findings, firefighters can then determine whether it is quicker to attack the locks, attack the gate, or jump the gate in the case of an electronic roll down.
A significant determining factor is the type and number of locks securing the gate. If a gate is secured with two American Series 700 padlocks, it may be quicker to attack the locks. Conversely, if a gate is secured with several American Series 2000 “hockey puck” style locks guarded with a shield, it may be quicker and more efficient to attack the gate (photo 1). This size-up is predicated on knowing your equipment and understanding its capabilities and limitations. In the case of a gate secured with several hockey puck locks, the type of blade you are running will play a role in this decision. If you are running an abrasive disc on your forcible entry saw, it will likely be worn down significantly after cutting a couple of shielded hockey pucks. On the other hand, if you are running an all-purpose diamond blade, you are more likely going to complete the task without issue.
Another determining factor in deciding whether to attack the locks vs. the gates is the fire conditions present within the occupancy. If there is a heavy fire condition within the occupancy that is exposing the roll-down curtain, you are likely going to have to attack the gate (photo 2). If the curtain is being exposed to high heat, it will begin to warp. Warping will impact the ability to retract the gate properly, which negates your option of attacking the locks. If you arrive on scene and there are indications of a well-advanced fire, you should consider the possibility of the gates being warped and plan your entry accordingly.
Where to Cut
Once it has been determined that you are going to gain entry by attacking the gates, you must decide where you are going to begin your cuts and what type of cut you are going to use. Where to begin your cutting operation is going to be largely predicated on your size-up skills and your fireground observations.
If the fire occupancy is small and only has one gate, then the answer is fairly obvious, and you are going to start working on the lone gate (photo 3). If the fire occupancy is large with multiple gates, you need to determine which gate covers the main access to the occupancy (photo 4). On some occupancies, you can determine the main access point based on the size of the gates. In photo five, two larger gates cover the display windows, with a smaller gate in the middle covering the entryway. In this instance, you would likely attack the entryway gate first and then proceed to the larger gates covering the windows.
On larger occupancies, the main entryway may not be clearly defined from the exterior when all the gates are down and locked. Some firefighters will survey their area during normal business hours to ascertain this information. They can make a mental note of where the main entryway is located or develop a reference point using numbers or letters on the storefront awning that line up with the entry door. For example, in photo 6 the main entry door is located under the “A” in Pizza on the awning sign. Making a mental note of that and using it as a point of reference will assist in identifying the entry door when the gates are down, as in photo 7. Another indicator may be the presence of a concrete ramp or a saddle on the sidewalk leading to the entry door (photos 6, 7, and 8).
Types of Cuts
The type of cut you make is determined by the style of gate you have, the size of the gate, and the extent of fire conditions. Identifying the style of gate (solid or open) will help in determining how best to cut it. For a solid gate, there are numerous cutting options such as the slash cut, the box cut, and the inverted V. Conversely, the “rod and link” style, because of its unique construction features, requires a specific cut, which I will describe later in this article.
Smaller gates: When faced with a solid gate, firefighters must consider its overall size in selecting the type of cut they are going to use. For smaller gates, 12 feet wide or less, the slash cut is probably the quickest and most efficient. For larger gates, greater than 12 feet wide, the box cut or the inverted V cut would be indicated. Fire conditions must also be considered in this process, especially on larger gates. If conditions indicate a heavy body of fire in the occupancy, the inverted V would be indicated because it allows for rapid water application following the second cut (photo 9).
The slash cut is a single cut made in the middle of a smaller gate with a maximum width of 10 to 12 feet. The benefits of the slash cut are that it is easy to do and results in rapid entry. The key is to make the cut in the middle of the gate, starting as high as you can reach, and bringing it as close to the ground as you can (photo 10). Once the cut is finished, the slats can be pulled toward the center from each side of the cut, which results in a large rectangular opening. To pull the slat, you must drive the point of the halligan into the metal to pierce the slat (photo 11). Once the halligan is set, you can pull the slat toward the cut or drive it with the ax if resistance is met (photo 12.) One key point to remember with the slash cut is that the slats attached to the locking pins will remain engaged. The slat above and below the locking pin will have to be pulled individually, and the remaining slat can then be cut with the saw or bent out of the way.
Larger gates: On larger gates, in excess of 12 feet wide, firefighters have two options: They can use the box cut or the inverted V. The box cut (aka the “triple slash or 111 cut”) is a variation of the slash cut suitable for larger gates. Essentially, it consists of three slash cuts spaced evenly along the width of the gate. The first cut is made in the middle of the gate, starting high and brought to the ground. The two outside cuts are made in a similar fashion at least one foot in from the guide rails for the slats to pull freely (photo 13). When done properly, the slats are much more manageable when removing, and you end up with a large rectangular opening.
The inverted V is another option when dealing with larger gates. As mentioned earlier, this cut allows for immediate water application through the open triangle following the second cut. The inverted V consists of two overlapping angled cuts, which results in a large triangular opening in the middle of the gate. Begin your first cut in the middle of the gate as high as you can reach, and bring it down on an angle toward the corner of the gate (photo 14). Start the second cut on the opposite angle about one foot below the initial cut, leaving a small portion of gate intact (photo 15). Bring this cut down toward the opposite corner. Once this cut is complete, you can return to the top and cut the remaining portion. If the second cut intersects the first cut at the onset, the gate will begin to fall as the cut is being made. This may cause the saw to bind and potentially expose the operator to heat and flames. Once the cuts are completed, you can pull the slats on both sides into the middle to expand the triangular opening into a large rectangle.
The construction features of the open grille gates known as rod and link style will require you to use a variation of the box cut known as the curtain cut. The traditional box cut and the inverted V will be ineffective because of the lack of removable slats. Strictly vertical or angled cuts will not sever all of the aluminum links connecting the rods, which will leave portions of the gate intact. With the curtain cut, you start with two vertical cuts on each end of the gate about 12 inches in from the guide rails. These cuts should extend as high as you can reach and continue as low as possible. The third cut is a horizontal cut made at the top of the gate that connects the two vertical cuts and severs the aluminum links, resulting in a large rectangular opening (photo 16).
Best Entry Method
As you can see, there are several factors to consider in determining the best method of entry when dealing with roll-down gates secured with high-security padlocks. Firefighters must consider the style and type of gate, the number and types of locks, and the prevailing fire conditions to select the best method of entry-be it attacking the locks or cutting the gate. An additional point to consider when you decide to cut the gate is the loss of control in terms of horizontal ventilation. Once the gate is cut and the slats are pulled, you have a large horizontal opening that can no longer be secured, potentially accelerating fire conditions. It is therefore imperative to coordinate this operation with the engine company to have the appropriately sized handline stretched and charged prior to completing the cuts.
Another point to consider when cutting the gates is to ensure you cut high enough on the gate to allow for clearance of the main entry door in the event that the upper curtain fails to recoil. If the upper portion of the gate is not cut high enough and it fails to recoil because of warping, it could very well block the main access door from opening, thus further delaying entry. In strip malls or taxpayers with multiple occupancies, consider cutting the locks or gates of the adjoining occupancies in addition to the fire occupancy in anticipation of lateral fire spread. It’s best to be proactive and open the exposures early on rather than trying to play catch up while the fire is extending laterally via the common cockloft. Lastly, understand that by cutting the gates you negate your ability to resecure the occupancy following your operations, which may reflect negatively in the eyes of the public if fire conditions were not consistent with the extent of the damage incurred.