TOOL TECH RAUL A. ANGULO
Forcible Entry Tool
Two of my most memorable calls are not
as spectacular as you would think.
When I was a young firefighter working
a shift at Engine 16 in the Greenlake District
of Seattle, Washington, my wife came in to
make the crew her excellent chicken-big shell
pasta dish with broccoli covered in a creamy
Alfredo mushroom sauce—one of my favorite
dishes to date. Just as we sat down for dinner,
the bell hit for a full response and we never
got a chance to eat it—maybe that is why it’s
memorable. The Masonic Temple was just
two blocks away from the station, and I knew
we would be first in. When we pulled up,
flames were blowing out a second-story window in the alley.
The driver hooked up to the hydrant,
the officer did a radio size-up, and I pulled
the attack line. I knew the building was
dark, so I also grabbed a pickhead ax. I was
all by myself. Back in 1985, we didn’t have
any real training in forcible entry. You just
forced entry the best way you could and
used whatever it took. We had pry bars, but
the halligan and the K-tools didn’t show up
in Seattle until about 1996. The A-tool or
officer’s tool showed up two years ago.
The front door to the Masonic Temple
was an old, arch-shaped, ornate wooden
door. It looked like it came from an ancient
gothic church. Not knowing any better at
the time, I knew I had to “chop” my way
through this door and I was going right
through the middle. After about five heavy
duty whacks, the door flung open. I remember thinking, “Wow! That was cool—just
like in the movies.” In reality, the lock probably just gave way because I had no idea what
I was doing. I needlessly destroyed a beautiful piece of wood. But I advanced the line up
the stairs and put out the kitchen fire in the
auditorium before anyone else backed me
up. I’ve put out a lot of fires over the years,
but damaging that door unnecessarily still
bothers me to this day.
Another memorable door breach was
when I working on Engine 13 in the Beacon
Hill District. We were dispatched to a suicide.
As I led my crew up the stairs to the front
porch, we could see the patient through the
window. The adrenalin kicked in, and since I
was leading the charge, I decided to be John
Wayne and kick the front door in without
missing a step. Whatever locking mechanism
they had in place ricocheted me off the door
and almost off the front porch! I told my three
gargantuans to break the door down and they
knocked in the entire door frame. We forced
entry but we were too late.
Both of these stories have stayed with me
because there are better, more profession-
al techniques to force entry with minimal
damage. We just hadn’t been taught. Today,
The incident priority acronym—RECEO/
VS: Rescue, Exposures, Confinement,
Extinguishment, Overhaul/Ventilation, and
Salvage—can’t even begin until you gain
access to the occupancy.
One of the coolest tools I’ve seen at the
Fire Department Instructors Conference
(FDIC) is the W-Tool by the Weddle Tool
Company of Bunker Hill, West Virginia.
The founder, inventor, and CEO is Dave
Weddle, who brought on Captain Dan
Corder, Charles Brown, Joe Habib, and Jack
Harding in 2008. Between them, they bring
more than 100 years of firefighting experi-
ence coming up with tools for firefighters,
The W-Tool is a nondestructive forcible entry tool that is actually a hydraulic spreader designed to provide multiple
forcible entry solutions. It doesn’t require
cords, hoses, a power source, or fuel. Unlike
a Rabbit tool and the irons, the W-Tool is a
one-person operation—its greatest advantage. The W-Tool is basically a 25-pound
hydraulic jack with 6,000 pounds of spreading (or lifting) force. When placed horizontally at the nine-o’clock and three-o’clock
positions of a door frame, hydraulic pressure is applied against the frame, spreading it apart past the locking mechanism and
the strike plate. Once the latch and dead
bolt clear the door jamb and the strike plate,
the door opens. You’re essentially widening
the opening beyond the edges of the door, so
there is minimal to no destruction in most
cases. The W-Tool works on most residential
and commercial doors.
The NonDestructive Evolution
When it’s determined a door needs to be
forced, one firefighter can grab the W-Tool.
Remember to “try before you pry.” Place the
tool at the base of the door to size it. Once you
extend it to the width of the door, the power
head control valve is engaged for the hydrau-
lic fluid. Raise the W-Tool to a horizontal posi-
tion near the strongest part of the door in
close proximity to the strongest lock or dead
bolt. Pump the handle until the W-Tool is
firmly wedged against the door frame. Keep
your dominant hand on the handle. Place
the other hand on the doorknob to control
the door. As the firefighter pumps the lever,
steady pressure is applied to the door jamb.
The speed of the spreader depends on
how fast you pump the handle. Since most
1 Once you size the W-Tool to the horizontal width of the door, move it up to the strongest part of the door in close proximity of
the lock. Pump the handle until you have the W-Tool tightly wedged against the door jambs. (Photo s courtesy of the Weddle Tool
Company.) 2 By pumping the handle with your dominant hand, the hydraulic spreader slowly starts to apply up to 6,000 pounds of
pressure against the door jam. Keep your other hand on the doorknob to control the door. Once the door jamb spreads apart beyond
the locking bolt, the door pops open. After you open the door, you can use the W-Tool as a door chock to hold the door open. 3 When
quick forcible entry is required and causing property damage isn’t a concern, you can use the W-Tool as a 25-pound battering ram.
The heavy duty shoulder strap balances and carries the weight of the tool so you can set yourself to deliver a high-velocity punch.
Whether you’re using the W-Tool as a hydraulic spreader or a battering ram, it is a one-person operation.