Thursday, March 18, 2010

Secondary Means

By Erich Roden

Photos by author

Accessing the structure from a fire escape or rear porch to search and simultaneously ventilate finds us overcoming myriad means of preventing unlawful entry. Window slide-gates, bars, board-ups (HUDs/VPS), etc. certainly require some effort to overcome to ventilate and or enter the structure via a means other than the primary means of egress (interior stairs).  While these aforementioned means are easily noted from the exterior by outside-ventilation firefighters, they are rarely acknowledged by those operating in the interior.

This truism perhaps stems from the fact that we used the primary means of egress to enter the structure in the first place. When it’s time to exit the IDLH environment, we are not always considering the need to overcome gates and or board-ups when we stumble upon or need to exit via a secondary means of egress. Do we even carry the tools needed to overcome these “window treatments” to make it to the fire escape or rear porch?

Your answer should be yes. Why? We all search with tools, right? The right tools will also allow us to get out of the IDLH as well. Every tool usually serves several purposes: whether it’s to take out a window(s), force a door, or even as a step-stool to reach a bulkhead skylight, our tools say what we are capable of doing, not the other way around. So we should carry ones that allow for multiple applications. I’m referring to at least the Halligan and hook (6’). These two tools should be carried by anyone entering a fire building with a red frontpiece (ahem… or yellow and blue) on their helmet. The hook allows us to: close and or control a door, pull ceiling to check extent of fire overhead, and even smack a Halligan into the jamb and save the purchase you made with the it.

The Halligan on the other hand, lets us overcome many window treatments found between you and a fresh blow on the fire escape or rear porch. Let’s look at how this one tool will let you overcome two common window treatments found in the urban fire setting:


Slide-gates are usually found securing occupancies off fire escapes. They’re usually locked with a simple padlock or could have multiple locks depending on how nice the neighborhood is. When encountering these security devices, consider taking the hinge side as this is the weakest component of the gate. These gates may be extremely heavy depending on make and model; and unlike a bulkhead door, we want to start with the bottom hinge first. This will make prying the window easier as the window won’t cant towards the hinges:

Then take the middle hinge:

And finally the top hinge; and slide the gate towards the lock. Remember, you may have to remove a board-up and glass as well, did you remember your hook?


These gates, while innocuous in appearance, will jam you up if you attempt to crawl over them. Rather, simply take your Halligan, place it between the center of the gate and smash side-to-side until one side starts to pull out of the window. Then, continue smashing the opposite side until it finally pulls out of the framing and push it out of the way.

Remember, we can’t always rely on outside-ventilation firefighters to remove every window treatment to vent or enter the structure; we also can’t rely on them taking the one(s) you need at any given moment. It is up to you to know how to get in and out of the windows in your response area(s).


  1. We should always carry the proper tools to perform our job function(s), but more importantly to affect egress should it be necessitated.

    However, in the big picture, these or any other "window treatments" should be removed by RIT or FAST or whatever you call that assignment. The RIT should not be standing around in the front of the building waiting for something bad to happen. The RIT should be PROACTIVE in preventing those bad things from happening or at least setting the stage to give the rescue operation its highest probability of success by removing those obstacles ahead of time.

    Upon arrival on the fireground, RIT should assemble their equipment, make contact with command, perform a building size-up covering as many sides as possible, determine the location and extent of the fire conditions, the location(s) of the operating companies, force all additional egress points, remove or abate any obstacles or hazards...or at least make all involved in the operation aware of them, and ladder upper floors. Once these PROACTIVE measures are completed the RIT must return to a position near the command post where they will continue to monitor radio traffic, fire conditions and the progress of the operation. The RIT should also formulate their contingency plans for possible rescue scenarios. These measures will help operating firefighters inside and around the fire building the greatest chances of survival.

  2. One of the bigger problems here would be finding a victim which requires both hands. You drop your tools and head for the window and have a OH CRAP moment.