Posted tagged ‘forcible entry’

Thru-The-Lock Tool Review


You can find a variety of thru-the-lock tools out there, they come any many different sizes, names, prices, and most importantly quality. This is a quick review on the differences in the tools and their limitations. We thought this would be a good way to start before we post some thru-the-lock articles later on down the line. Some of these tools differences are so slight they are hard to spot until you take a close look at them. To start you can see the first picture that gives us a look at the most common thru-the-lock tools.


We will start with some of the oldest generation of commercially sold lock pulling tools. The K-Tool was invented in the 1960’s when thru-the-lock entry was just becoming an option. Many of the oldest thru-the-lock tools were homemade out of modified pry bars. The increased security features being installed on doors is what drove the original thru-the-lock tools. The K-tool is still an effective tool but has a limited use which is making it outdated. This is due to tubular deadbolts becoming very common and the invention of newer lock pullers that can pull all cylinders. The K-Tool is limited to rim and mortise cylinders however it is very effective  and portable which has allowed it to perform for many years on these types of locks. The body of the K-tool is too shallow to fit over the common tubular deadbolts found today. That is where the R-tool comes in, the R-tool is essentially a bigger version of the K-tool. It has the same design and pulls cylinders in the same way. However with the larger body it can fit over the tubular deadbolts also. The biggest drawback of this tool is the size. It is very bulky and is difficult to get around cylinders when they are close to the jamb or covered by handles.  They are also much less portable due to their size. If you look below you can see the difference in the depth of the tools body.

Below you see the Rex Tool and the Modified Rex Tool. These are some of the newest generation of lock pulling tools and in my opinion are the best ones you can use today. Because of their design you can pull any type of cylinder and also pull door knobs. Its slim design lets you reach locks that are under door handles or close to jambs.  The Rex-Tool is a great design and very effective tool however to take it one step further is the Modified Rex Tool.  The Modified Rex Tool is simply the cut off head of a Rex-Tool that has had a band welded on it. The band is made to fit a Halligan and is used in a similar fashion as the K-Tool. This makes it very portable and just as effective. It is simple to make and will be used much more because of having it with you and not having to go back to the truck. We have used it numerous times and had great success with this modified tool.

It is important to note that although the Rex-tool looks like the A-tool or O-tool (which we do not have pictures of) there is a big difference in their construction and how effective they are. You must look closely to tell the difference in the Rex-tool and the A-tool. Here are the main differences. The A-tool came out first, and they look like the Rex-tool having a handle that is connected to a head in the shape of a claw. The heads are smaller than the Rex-tool and have much less material that goes around the lock cylinders. The A-tool tends to slip easier when pulling cylinders and is difficult to use on tubular deadbolts compared to the Rex tool. The Rex tool  is  more expensive than the A-tool at almost double the price, but worth it for the way it performs. The easiest way to identify which tool you are buying or already have is by the shape in between the forks. The A-tool is like its name in the shape of an A. If you look at the picture above of the Modified Rex Tool you will see its signature shape is the U. This tapered U shape is a big reason the Rex-tool seats in locks so well and holds on while you pull. There are many other features that make one or the other better which we wont get into right now, this post was mainly to make it easier to identify the names and features of these tools. A quick note on the key tools and modified pliers. These perform the same functions of tripping the locks after we have pulled the cylinders. The advantage of the pliers is that you always have them with you. Many times the key tools will disappear out of the factory case they come in. The pliers are easy to make (which we will cover in another article) and work very well.

You can get into a lot more depth about these tools but that’s easier to do when explaining how to use them. This is just a way to get your terminology straight and recognize some of the differences between the tools. There are many other thru the lock tools available out there, but these are the most common. All of these were made by guys that ran into problems and came up with a better way to do things.

Door Size Up #3


Door #3 is found on the backside of a 2 story commercial building. The front side consists of storefronts on the first floor with offices on the second floor accessed by a common stairwell. Attention to detail while sizing up this door may just make the difference in how we would attack it. Hit our key size up points, take a guess on the exterior picture and then scroll down to see if you were right.

Key points to identify for door size up:                                           

–          Building Occupancy

–          Construction Type (mainly the wall around door)

–          Which way the door swings

–          Type of door material 

–          Type of frame and jamb

–          Locking devices and Bolt patterns (additional security devices)

Exterior of Door # 3


Interior of Door #3

The interior picture makes it clear why the offset bolts are mounted as seen. This homemade multi-lock has a single handle in the center that slides the flat throws into place on each side of the frame. The throws sit  into the jamb and are then pinned behind the mount. This would prevent someone from reaching through a cut hole in the door and activating the handle. Another option found on this type of lock uses padlocks in place of pins.

The most common type of multi-lock in this area are the homemade ones as seen above. The commercially sold Fox Locks that activate in the same manner are uncommon in this part of the country. A big difference in these homemade multi-locks and the commercially sold ones is the access from the outside. Most multi-locks that are commercially made have the option of a key cylinder on the outside that allows you to activate the lock (which gives us the option of thru-the-lock), very rarely does a homemade multi-lock have this option.

Here is the breakdown of our size up:

1. The common door knob showing (key in the knob) tells us that we have very little resistence in our primary lock and that this door does not have panic hardware.

2. The offset carriage bolts should alert us of a possible multi-lock instead of a drop bar that is found so commonly on the backside of buildings. This is where the attention to detail comes into play because it would be very easy to assume a drop bar setup.

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

Residential Rolldown Security Shutters


These are fairly unique on residential homes in this part of the country, but we have noticed a few popping up in our still district. I would imagine these are much more popular in the coastal parts of the country where they protect homes from hurricane damage.

 After running an alarm in this house we were able to take a closer look at how they are setup and installed. The reason we are seeing them out here is for security reasons. The elderly lady that owns this house informed us that she has been robbed a total of 12 times over the years. She lives in this home on a fairly busy street in an area where break-ins are not uncommon. I got the feeling that she has lived here for a very long time, probably before the neighborhood had started to decline. To secure herself this is what she came up with.

The pictures below let you see the roll down aluminum security shutters and the window security bars. What you cannot see by these pictures is that every window on her house, including the second floor have this security added to them. Not to mention the razor wire that has been installed on her fence that surrounds the backside of the house. Take a closer look:

The frames are installed as the top plate for the windows on the interior of the bars. However in the next pictures you can see that the metal framing for the shutters is more to the exterior of the building. Underneath you will find more window bars that are concealed behind the shutters.

These just add a curve ball into the standard ways we would perform horizontal ventilation, not to mention the work load that is added for the outside truck crew.  It also creates a great deal of egress issues. A few questions to think about.

How will this effect locating the fire from the outside? How long would it take a crew to remove, especially on the second floor?  Call an extra truck company?  Effects on smoke and fire behavior?

Door Size Up #2


The second door we have is an interesting one. It is very obvious upon size up that we have multiple security features to this door (which is not always this obvious). Take a look and a guess…..then scroll down and see if you were in the ballpark.

Remember the key points to look at sizing up before you plan your attack.

  •  Building Occupancy (which we will give you) 
  • Construction type
  • Which way it swings
  • Type of door/material
  • Type of jamb/frame material
  • Locking devices and bolt patterns (primary, secondary and so on)

This door was found on the backside of a L-shaped 2 story wood frame commercial. The building has multiple storefronts, and many business on the second floor also. This specific unit was a large rental center and the tenant had multiple previous break ins.

And here is the first step of the interior.

Just as you begin to think you’re getting a handle on the door you find this next.

What was the outside telling us??

Just walking up to this door we can see pretty obvious signs of heavy fortification. The numbers above go along with the following descriptions:

  1. We have a typical  door handle and rim cylinder combination. This type of hardware showing, along with knowing the occupancy, will tell you this has panic hardware on the backside. This lock setup is not very substantial alone, and may be all that is holding this door shut if it is daytime hours.
  2. Next we have two sets of carriage bolts mounted right above the panic hardware setup. These bolts should tip us off to some kind of drop bar mounts installed on the inside.
  3. Third we have two sets of 4 pattern carriage bolts. One set up high and one down low. These more than likely tell us that we have either slide bolts into the jamb, or padlock hasps installed. The location of the bolts near the edge of the door and the pattern of the four bolts are what is unique to these types of setups.
  4. The fourth characteristic basically tells us they have fabricated something inside that requires heavy-duty anchors through the entire exterior wall. Untill you see the inside, you could be thinking a number of things.

How do we defeat this?

Many people give this door much more credit than it deserves. The doors looks impressive from the outside and has some great points for talking about size up, however this door can be handled with a set of irons and some assistance from the saw. It is going to take longer than some but is still very reasonable to make as an option on the fire ground. Don’t let the internet fool you, C4, trucks with chains, find another door or this is impossible are not viable answers.

  1. Start conventional, Gap Set Force. During daytime hours this door was regularly locked with just the panic door. If that’s the case we are in with ease. If it is all buttoned up the halligan will still expose the weak points and we can conventionally pry open every lock you see on the outside door.
  2. Pry near the primary lock and the drop bar bolts, this is a great starting point and will be defeated with a set of irons and a hook if needed. This will also tell us what else is locked on the door.
  3. Next pry near either the upper or lower set of bolts that is the slide bolt. These offer some decent resistance if they are mounted correctly but can be overcome with irons. If one is ever holding on a little better than normal, the 6′ hook as a cheater will destroy these.
  4. After that this door is open to the roll down gate. Remember if you have a running saw you can always cut the shafts of these carriage bolts to assist you with loosening everything up. I am not anti saw and would absolutely do this also, just know irons can get you in these basic locks. When using the saw make smart cuts, start with the bolts on the lock side, ignore everything on the hinge side unless it is needed.
  5. While we are working on the outside door, hopefully someone has sent for the saw by the time we get to the roll down door behind it. This is going to be forced by the saw much quicker at this point.

Check out our commercial forcible entry videos on you tube for detailed instructions on forcing this exact type of door.

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