Halligan bars….they are not the same.

The Halligan Bar

By Ryan Royal

In any profession, how well you know your tools directly reflects in the way you use them. A well made tool has obvious design and durability advantages in comparison to the cheaply made imitations. This is true with anything from channel locks to Halligan bars.  A well made tool is typically easy to identify if you pay attention to the details. Sometimes the fire service will sacrifice quality for price. This seems insignificant at the time, until we call upon the tool to perform.  Very rarely will a good mechanic settle for a cheap set of sockets, or a seasoned electrician use a set of discount lineman pliers. It is our responsibility as the grunts, the ones who will have the most hands on time with the tools to educate ourselves in the quality that they are made. If we are carrying sub standard forcible entry tools, the only way we can effect change is to be educated in their differences.

What we call the “Halligan Bar” has transformed through the years into many different variations. The original tool was made by Hugh Halligan in the 1940’s. This tool was an in-house invention and maybe the most widely used tool in the fire service. Hugh Halligan also invented the Halligan hook (also commonly known as the roof hook). The whole history of these tools can be an entire article in itself, but a major point to take from this is two of the most durable and useful tools still used today were developed by some creative firehouse ingenuity. Developed by problems that were identified on the fireground, taken back to the firehouse, and solved by a man who designed every specification for a reason. The problem with many of today’s different types of bars is they have varied from the specs of the original design in a negative way.

The tool that has stayed most true to the original specs and has actually improved on them is the Pro Bar. The Pro Bar has numerous advantages over its competition which are poor imitations of a Halligan. We will discuss some of the key points that make the Pro Bar superior as they relate with the following pictures.

The picture above shows you an overview of three types of “Halligans”. The Pro Bar (the upper most) is one piece drop forged steel, no parts to fail and at 30 inches is the perfect length. The other two are longer and are made by three pieces attached together. The details can be seen better in these close-ups. Many people buy a 36″ bar because they want extra leverage, however the 30 ” bar has plenty of leverage to defeat very fortified doors but will also fit inside of most standard door frames, something that the 36″ bar may not be able to do, but instead will hit the wall when you apply the leverage.

                                                                                                                                                                                           PICTURE 1 – (The Pro Bar fork is on the right)

(PICTURE 1)  This picture of the forks shows you the big differences between the fork end of the bar. You can see the one piece construction of the Pro Bar on the right and the two imitations on the left.  As you can see, the three piece bars have been attached by a pin, and/or a weld. You can also see the tapered V shape of the space in between the forks of the Pro Bar. This angle of the fork gives you a good design to slide over hinges and take a solid bite to keep the bar in place.

                                                                                                                                                                             PICTURE 2 – (Pro Bar fork is on the right)

(PICTURE 2)  The side view of the forks shows one of the most critical differences in the bars,  the difference that makes the Pro Bar the well designed tool. You can see the Pro Bar has a nice gradual curve of the forks to give you the leverage you need once the tool is set. The key advantage is how much thinner the forks are, this allows you to set the tool on those tight inward swinging doors/jambs. The other two bars have an obvious thickness to them that adds to the problem of what we are trying to defeat. Why would we want our tool to work against us? If the door we are trying to defeat is worth its weight, then we are going to want the thinnest possible fork to drive in between the door and the jamb. The well designed curve is what gives us the leverage not the thickness of the fork. If the fork is too thick we will not be able to set the tool deep enough to even apply the leverage.

                                                                                                                                                                                PICTURE 3( Pro Bar adze on the Left )

(PICTURE 3)  The last picture shows you the adze end of the tool. The adze end could be the most useful part of the tool, especially if you are using one-man techniques. The Pro Bar adze is longer than the imitation bars and has a gradual curve to it. The curve gives us a high point on the adze that creates more leverage then its flat competitors. The length of the adze also gives you an added reach when you begin to pass it by the jamb of outward swinging doors.

The other part of the adze end of the tool is the pike. The pike is difficult to see in this picture but the differences are obvious if you have a chance to look at them in your own firehouse. The pike of the Pro Bar has a gradual curve to it, and is also much thinner then the imitation bars. The thickness of the other pikes is a disadvantage because of the resistance they cause when you need to drive them into material. The Pro Bars thin pike makes easy work of driving it through a metal door. This becomes very important if you are attempting to defeat carriage bolt heads with your irons. The less resistance the better and that is what the Pro Bar provides.

Nothing in this is new, like many things in the fire service, it is tried and true knowledge that has been passed down to us. It is important that this information is passed along so you can develop your own opinions, with that said this is an easy and obvious opinion to form for anyone that has been using Pro Bar Halligans.

Check out these old pictures from the original Halligan ads.

EDIT:   Right after posting this I was talking to Andrew Brassard from Brotherhood instructors. He also just wrote an informative article on this topic. We must have been thinking the same thing for a holiday article, both of these echo each other. Please take a look at his to reinforce what was said in this article. They also have a great picture of a three piece bar that has failed.Here is the link……Thanks Andrew for the heads up.

Next Up:  Modifications and Alternate uses of the Halligan

Explore posts in the same categories: 1. Forcible Entry

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17 Comments on “Halligan bars….they are not the same.”

  1. PJ Says:

    Well said Mr. Ironandladders. I look forward to the next installment. There are literally hundreds of uses for this tool but it is absolutely worthless if you leave it on the rig. The Ironsman needs the irons. While these comments seem obvious many guys are not getting it and it is up to those of us who care to educate them…..any way possible. Keep up the good work Mr. Ironsandladders.

  2. sgtoarms Says:

    Thanks for the article. From someone that has used a Halligan knock off (Blackhawk) in the Army, I was curious as to the origins of the Halligan. Great tool and both great articles. Keep em coming.

  3. JG Says:

    Another great article!
    This article and the one attached should be sent to all fire department headquarters, to Fire Chiefs, training divisions, and any other decision makers. Most of us think that since fire chiefs and senior decision makers have come up through the ranks they should have this type of knowledge. However, just as many articles such as these have pointed out, there are many of us out on the line that have never received this knowledge. We today are fortunate to have the many mediums of communication and information gathering. It’s sometimes hard to remember that these electronic mediums are still “new” and has only been around for 15 to 20 years, and only just recently has gained the ability to share information like this so that more and more of us can be educated.
    I could not agree with PJ more,” While these comments seem obvious many guys are not getting it and it is up to those of us who care to educate them…..any way possible”
    Not only are the current line firefighters not getting it, but many of our senior leadership may have never gotten it. So it is up to all of us to educate each other.

    Keep up the great work!!

  4. LeftCoastFF Says:

    I work at a dept that use a Halligan knock-off that has a “can opener” fork end, which makes it completely useless for forcible entry. “It works great for cutting car hoods for engine compartment fires.” And thats coming from a Truck Lt!!! As a junior member, my opinions go completely unheard – thanks for the article, maybe it will add some validity to a junior FFs cries for help!!!

  5. TRUCK 4 Says:

    Since you mentioned it in the above article as well, I thought that it should be note worthy to add some information about the Halligan Hook (roof Hook) as well. Since its popularity has grown over the years, it would only make sense that other tool companies make their own spin off of the tool. Along with the Halligan (pro) Bar, only the original design works the best. Any legnth needed to get your job done will work but its construction of Aircraft steel shaft, pry bar bottom and signature design “hook” end are the only way to go. Just because your “roof hook” has that signature hook style on it, don’t be surprised if your light-weight fiber glass shaft breaks when prying a well secured ledger board during overhaul. Also don’t expect it to hold up when using it in conjunction with the Halligan Bar during a forceable entry situation where you use the shaft of the hook to set your halligan. And for those of you out there who haven’t seen it, ask because it works and it works well. Also if your “hook” has a detachable head that turns into a shovel and a multitude of other tools, expect after the first or second time you push it through some sheet rock that it will come detached from the rest of the shaft and it may take quite some time to find it leaving you without your tool.

    As mentioned above, there is nothing that works quite like the original. There may be plenty of other cheaper knock-offs out there and for the most part they MIGHT work the same, but when it truely comes time to use the tool to its max, the others will fail. So if you find yourself on some type of committee that alocates tools for new appuratus or replacement tools, remind everyone else in the room that only the best will work and only the best will survive the test of time.

    Great article, keep them comming, and everyone keep commenting! This is really good stuff!

    • RR E8T Says:

      Trev, Nice follow-up on the roof hook. Good point on the multi-tipped option, seems like a perfect place for the tool to fail. -Ryan

  6. […] IRONSandLADDERS.com Post: Halligan bars….they are not the same […]

  7. Lynch Says:

    Excellent comparison article. This is the most versatile tool in the fire service. It’s uses are limitless.

  8. Grace Says:

    I’m trying to figure out some history of the first Halligan bars. The old bars from the 40’s I have came across have to distinct marks on the forks. One has Hugh Halligan’s signature and one has block style letters with his name on it. Does anyone know which came first or any details about these?

    • We will look into that one for you, I have a few resources I will check with if they do not answer you on here first. I own one of the originals and it has Hugh Halligans signature on it. I do not recall ever seeing the block letters. Give us a few days and check back.

  9. Dick Doan Says:

    I have three “real” Halligan bars. Two have the signature Hugh A. Halligan on one tine of the fork. The other has HALLIGAN, in block letters, on one tine of the fork. All three have A. M. + D. G., also in block letters, on the other tine of the fork. The two signatures are identical, other than the letters of one is thicker than the other.

    The block lettered bar is a later version, but still made by Chief Halligan.

    A. M. + D. G. stands for the Latin phrase, ” Ad maiorem Dei gloriam”, which in English means, “For the greater glory of God”. The + stands for the cross of Jesus. The phrase is the motto of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). Chief Halligan was a devote Catholic and thus put the motto on the bar.

    I recently received this information from a Grandson of Chief Halligan. He told me that his father, Bud Halligan, gave the information to him. I can’t imaging finding a better source of information.

    My collection of forcible entry tools includes the three “Halligan bars”, a Pro bar, a Hux bar, a Claw tool, a Detroit door opener, a Pry Axe, several flat & pick head axes, a maul, sledges, and some straight pry bars.

    Some of it will eventually be mounted on my Prospect Chemical Engine. Its on a 1926 Graham Brothers/Dodge chassis.

    If anyone is selling, I’m always looking for antique fire equipment, and especially for a Kelly tool & a Jet Axe.

  10. Bob Farrell and Bill McLaughlin designed the Pro-Bar based on their experience operating in some of the FDNY’s busiest companies during the 1960’s. The Pro-Bar made several key improvements over Hugh Halligans original design which made it much more efficient. The pinned bars found on the market today share many of those same design flaws that the original Halligan bar had 50 years ago.


  12. […] I use Pro-Bar Halligans plain and simple. Are they the only good bar out there? I highly doubt it, in fact I know of a couple others that I would love to test out and some guys would vouch for 100% (Aazel Tool Co. is one of the good Halligans in particular that I think would compete). That’s not what my experience has been with, so I will not speak to those. 30 inchPro Bars have superior construction, have a great amount of thought into the thicknesses, curves and designs of its working ends and have been proven on the fire ground for many years. I have already wrote an entire article on the differences of the Halligans found on the market. Please take a look at it here, it gives you all the information you need to compare the 3 Piece Bars v.s One Piece Pro Bars.  Here is the article Halligan Bars, They Are Not The Same […]

  13. Arnold Merkitch Says:

    I retired in 1988 from FDNY with over 26 years on the job, of that almost 20 years with the Rescues. During that time the Halligan Tool and Halligan Hook was incomparable. There was no tool better than the Halligan Hook for pulling Tin Ceilings and stripping Lathe Walls also force doors and locks. If you were expertise enough with the Halligan Tool you could Pull Ceilings (standing on a chair or table), strip walls, pull wood floors, force doors and locks by your self, ventilate, go through walls to escape or rescue, remove Man Hole Covers, break windows from the floor above with a Roof Rope, remove wood from hole cut into roof and push ceiling down to ventilate. If given the option that I could only carry one Tool at a Fire I would feel completely safe and secure with a Halligan Tool. P.S. I still carry a Halligan Tool in my Car. Arnold Merkitch

  14. Ben Waller Says:

    One advantage of the 36″ Halligan is for car fires and auto extrication. The extra length is helpful for extra leverage when making purchase points for hydraulic tools and for bending hood and trunk lids to gain access to hidden fire. The extra reach is also nice for shorter personnel, since when door frame width is not an issue for extrication. Some of the best truck and rescue companies carry both lengths.

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