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NYC Fire Department Forcible Entry Manual (2006) [pdf] (brothersinbattlellc.com)
123 points by dfc on Feb 4, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 38 comments

Interesting seeing this posted here.

I've spent the past decade+ as a firefighter with the FDNY and this is always a go-to book (at least for monday-morning-quarterbacking how somebody did something). It's one of the few times a book does a good job at mirroring actual practice. We have a lot of other books on tools and procedures, but this one is more interesting to a hacker's mindset.

Some notes:

- trying the doorknob is indeed important advice. I think the ones I've forced have always been locked, but there are plenty of times I can't guarantee 100% that I checked the doorknob first.

- always good to jiggle the door before you attack it to see just where the locks are locked on the inside.

- the halligan tool is perfectly made, but the different ways of increasing leverage are always useful (like marrying it to another, or chocking the door with an axe (or wooden chocks) to maintain progress and you "work your way up").

- breaching a wall is sometimes an option. Sometimes a $1000 door has a $10 sheet of drywall right next to it. Only needed to do this a few times but makes you look like an animal when you do it.

- no matter how hard a door is, the hydra-ram is almost always guaranteed to open it. but we usually use this as a last resort or for emergencies where you can't waste time "d&$*ing around".

- never give up your tool. basically, if you are working to force a door, but it's taking some time and someone says "let me give a try", don't take the bait. If someone else pops your door for you, you will never live it down.

- on my first run ever, a gentleman from my company showed me how to twist off padlocks like in the example on the bottom of p.122. An obvious trick, but worked well though my career and I got to show it to a bunch of people. Trivial example but I only mention it because he died last year of WTC-related-illness.

- I always had a tool like this: http://www.homedepot.com/p/Estwing-10-in-Pro-Claw-Moulding-P... in my coat pocket (a little better model though). Worked great for lighter doors with minimal locks (staircases, internal offices, closets etc.)

That doc could use a little more in the way of discussion about controlling fire flow. It briefly mentions control of the door (though I assume that talking about short term "don't get yourself cooked" control). It also talks a lot about chocking the door. It doesn't talk much about all the times you would want to avoid chocking the door.

We don't chock doors by default. We secure them so they remain openable, but we don't chock them open unless we have another reason for leaving them open. Controlling airflow is critical in firefighting (something we in the US are just starting to come around to with the research being done by NIST/UL, etc). Propping a door open means you risk taking a fire that is burning rich (and therefore 'cool') and pushing it closer to an ideal stoichiometric ratio. We're actually in the process of putting 'door curtains' on the rigs so that we can chock the door, but drop a canvas curtain over the opening to block airflow.

(I suspect you're very aware of this, as the Governors Island tests were critical to the recent NIST/UL studies, just wanted to add some more color to your comment and the posted document)

That door curtain is a fantastic idea. When my company would go to Governor's Island I did dropdown curtains from the floor above.

I've actually been light duty for the past 2 years so for all I know drones are putting out fires now. But about the time I went out they were updating all the ventilation procedures bigtime.

It is interesting... I guess FDNY for east coasters and LA County/City for the west coasters are like the Google/Apple of the fire service world. You guys have a unique set of problems; scale, frequency of high risk operations, etc. Even if those problems don't apply to smaller departments, they (we) emulate your tactics/strategy and constantly compare what we are doing to FDNY/LACO Fire. It's not always applicable, but one can rest assured that the strategy or tactic will get us "in the ball park" or serve as a good starting point.

The really interesting thing happening in the fire service is the NIST research, IMO. We have built some fire props based on the research and have changed our strategy significantly. Also, due to the thermodynamic studies NIST has provided we have changed the entire conversation regarding fire behaviour in west coast areas. Personally, I am always trying to find something relevant to hack on that would provide some value to the fire service...

I don't know if there's a West Coast / East Coast "thing" in firefighting or not, but there is definitely a marked difference from very urban departments (FDNY) to very rural departments (my department in rural NC).

For one, we had little or no reason to training in high-rise firefighting tactics. We had no buildings more than 2 stories in our district and those were residential, with no standpipes or any of that stuff.

OTOH, I guess most FDNY companies don't respond to a lot of brush fires, or have to deal with a lot of urban/wildland interface stuff. I'm sure there are some, depending on the exact location, but how much wildland / brush is there in downtown Manhattan? For us, brush fires, including very large brush fires (think thousands or tens of thousands of acres) were something we dealt with semi-regularly.

There are differences in equipment as well. FDNY can usually rely on hydrants, whereas we had to do a lot of stuff with running tanker shuttles and drafting from dump tanks, drafting from static water sources (ponds, etc.). And even when we had hydrants they would probably be further away due to the difference in spacing (ours were every 1,000 feet where they exist, most major cities have a "hydrant on every corner" or "hydrant ever 500 feet" or something policy), which mean longer hose lays, more relay pumping, etc.

I've sort of always seen the urban/rural difference as one of the main "branches" in the fire service (aside from paid vs volunteer).

> - never give up your tool. basically, if you are working to force a door, but it's taking some time and someone says "let me give a try", don't take the bait. If someone else pops your door for you, you will never live it down.

So macho! I wonder if you could expand on that as far as the culture in being a firefighter a bit. The only thing I know about this is obviously what I see on TV and in movies. I suspect that it's actually beneficial rather than detrimental to the necessary camaraderie in the group.

Firefighter culture/behaviour, at least on my department, is very complicated. It often resembles toddlers fighting for toys in a sandbox and I mean it... calling us Toddlers is being nice. Literally 2 minutes later it can resemble team-work that would make General Patton proud. I do not watch firefighter shows or movies as a general rule, so I can not comment if they mirror reality.

I don't think I could write about fire service culture in a comment on HN that would satisfy myself or my brothers and sisters in the service. It is just too complicated, at least from my perspective.

The example he gave is day one stuff. Never give up washing the dishes, never give up the nozzle, never give up rolling hose, never give up tools, and so on... especially if you are the junior guy/gal. Seniority plays a big role in my department.

"...never give up rolling hose, never give up tools, ..."

This certainly provides insight into the deaths of 27 wildland firefighters who died disregarding orders to drop their heavy tools (so they could outrun a wildfire):

"Drop Your Tools: An Allegory for Organizational Studies" by Karl Weick at http://www19.homepage.villanova.edu/gregory.gull/MBA8510.htm...

Long time lurker on hacker news. This topic inspired me to finally register.

Wildland operations are a completely different skill set from structural firefighting. That is why there is a separate certification (red card).

While I never was red card certified, our small town department in Colorado was asked during the occasional summer to provide structural support (or wildland if certified) for some of the mountain towns (lodgepole pine beetle kill). This freed up the wildland folks to do their thing.

We got enough training to learn that basically the only tool that should be carried when speed is of the essence is your portable shelter. Granted it looks like out training came a decade after the above fire, so lessons learned are being disseminated.

Sad to hear about the 27 brother and sisters who lost their lives on the line.

Regarding admired fire departments, Phoenix fire seemed to show up a lot in our trainings as a source that really focused on data driven strategy and tactics.

(10 year retired volunteer Firefighter)

That is fascinating, thanks. There definitely is point where the primary life hazard is us and we fail to realize it sometimes.

Reminds me of the speech from The Edge. "Most people in the wilderness die of shame ... instead of thinking".

That said, all fatal fire reports have one thing in common. All the people who read them think "I have no clue what I would have done if that was me".

That's what intelligent, self-aware people think (on good days).

Superb article, thank you. Makes me think about my resistance to a manager telling me to drop a particular piece of software or tooling in favor of something else.

I really admire what you guys do. Not something I could ever do at all. [1]

[1] As opposed to reading success stories on HN where I think "I could do that easily.." or "luck played a large role in that success".

Agree 100% with everything you said: toddlers, teamwork, not-watching-movies-as-a-rule, and not giving up your tool is more an attitude to complete what you started.


Partly it's because murphy's law says that you "loosened it" for the next guy.

But also because confidence is a big part of the job. Once you start second-guessing yourself and listening to too many suggestions at once, you'll start to suck. Obviously all people have insights to give, and you should listen and absorb what you can, but most doors are unique and your opportunity to learn is proportional to your immediate involvement with the door right in front of you.

> Once you start second-guessing yourself and listening to too many suggestions at once, you'll start to suck.

Wow do I ever agree with that and it's one of my bedrock principles actually. Having started and run my first business (years ago) with nobody to ask any questions and further not even knowing the business (not like it is now) and having to figure it out all on my own. Tremendously helpful to learning (but then again lives weren't at stake..)

Trivial example but I only mention it because he died last year of WTC-related-illness.

I've always maintained that all firefighters everywhere, paid or volunteer, urban or rural, structural or wildland, whatever, are all a brotherhood. I didn't know your friend, but you and he are brothers nonetheless, and I'm very sorry for your loss.

>trying the doorknob is indeed important advice

In CPR training they similarly tell you to check for responsiveness before beginning compressions. "Is he just sleeping?"

This is emphasized heavily in vehicle extrication training as well. No sense pulling out the hydraulic spreaders / cutters and shit, only to find out that the door would open from a nice sharp tug.

It's one of the few times a book does a good job at mirroring actual practice.

Does FDNY use the IFSTA stuff at all, or do you guys exclusively use your own training material? Just curious... I spent my career in firefighting as a volunteer in NC and all of our training was pretty much based on the IFSTA material, although our certifications were IFSAC accredited (if memory serves).

I came across this document when I was looking for more information about the "ardis brothers tool." My search didn't turn up much about the ardis tool but was worth the effort after I stumbled on this gem.

"Prior to forcing a door: The Forcible Entry Team should: TRY THE DOOR to determine 'IS THE DOOR LOCKED?'"


When my sister was in the fire academy, there was a nearby hotel slated to be demolished, so they used it for training. On one particular evolution, the task was "Search this whole floor for victims". The first door was locked, so they forced it (not an easy task with hotel doors designed to be reasonably secure), and then proceeded to break down every other door on the floor (20 minutes later, they're completely spent...).

Turns out, the instructors had only locked the first door, and they hadn't bothered to check any of the others, just assuming they were also locked.

Always, always, always try before you pry.

But that's not as fun..

I got to see the FDNY in action in my East Village apartment building a decade back after a neighbor's boyfriend set her place on fire. We locked our door and got it popped and it was amazing how quickly and efficiently they took out doors, windows, ceilings and floors as needed to control the fire and get the smoke out. They definitely knew their business and we were back in our 300 sq ft 6-floor walk-up in no time!

Thanks once again, FDNY!

I enjoy reading http://www.vententersearch.com/ for this sort of stuff.

Great site thanks.

"Remember that when we leave the fire scene, the doors we destroy leave the occupants vulnerable to further loss from vandalism. The people we are sworn to serve rely on our good judgement."

A healthy reminder for a lot of professions.

Am a firefighter...

Always Try before you Pry. Have the Halligan and Axe in standby.

Haven't read this yet, but here's the thing about forcible entry that might surprise a lot of people. Many doors are much easier to force than you might naively expect. Even with a deadbolt.

Think about it like this... say the bolt extends into the jamb by a full inch. That means you only need to move the door frame by half an inch, and the door by half an inch, or some equivalent combo. But here's the rub... many doors aren't well installed or the frame has warped, etc. and the bolt does not extend into the frame by an inch. It might be half an inch or less.

So, insert a decent sized prybar (halligan bar, or flat pry bar, whatever. Sometimes a big screwdriver will do) and pry... it doesn't take that much effort to get the door to flex a quarter of an inch and the frame a quarter an inch, and bob's yer uncle.

This is really true on wooden doors/frames on residential construction. It's a little less true for something like a steel door set into a steel frame in some kind of commercial building, but there still tends to be a little bit of give which can be exploited.

In the UK we do not have people walking about with guns and security is not as invincible as New York doors of 1980's vintage. Hence the UK police can gain entry to everywhere and anywhere with a warrant and the 'BIG KEY':


I am sure UK firefighters have all of the other tools (including the equally nicely named 'Jaws of Life') for when their friends in the other emergency services need some help.

One thing I really appreciated as an non-practicing observer was the frequent reminders to consider safety concerns, e.g. try a door knob before forcing it, take care with how padlocks may turn into projectiles, taking care that operating a chainsaw doesn't pose a threat to people inside a warehoused window, etc.

Interesting read. The few times I've seen the FDNY I always wondered what that strange modified crowbar thing they carry around was (since I didn't see other Fire Departments using it). Now I know!

Are you referring to the halligan bar? I'd be very surprised to see a fire department that didn't carry them. The "set of irons" (the halligan plus a flat head axe) is about as standard a set of tools as you can get in the fire service.

While there is some variation (I like to carry a Denver Tool[1] instead of the axe, as it's a slightly more effective striking tool), pretty much everyone carries the halligan. There really isn't a more versatile tool.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denver_tool

The Halligan is vim. Has weird modes of usage, and takes some explaining. But it is stable, ever-present, and all-powerful.

We need to start some sort of hacker/firefighter community. It seems there are more than a couple of us here.

Add one more, although my firefighting days are behind me now. I was a volunteer with Civietown and Supply VFD's in Brunswick County NC for basically the decade of the 90's. For a while I was an NCFRC certified Instructor II and could teach FFI/II, Incident Command and LP Gas Firefighting.

Then I moved to the Triangle region and started my "real" career and found that I didn't have time for firefighting anymore. I miss it sometimes, but my life is complicated enough as it is, without trying to do that now. But still, I remember a few things and I still enjoy discussing fire safety issues.

And finally, you should always TRY THE DOOR KNOB - “is the door open?

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