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Forcible Entry: Overhead Sectional (Garage) Doors

            There are many times throughout the year that we respond to structure fires in both residences, and commercial occupancies that have garage or overhead doors. These doors can challenge crews that are gaining access into them if they’re not familiar with how they work, how they’re made, and what cuts to make. Regardless of whether we’re gaining access for interior operations, defensive operations, or just to open it up for means of egress; we need to know how they operate, how they’re built, and what tools and cuts work best.


            There are a lot of various styles of overheard doors, what materials they’re constructed of, and their uses. The most common overhead door we face is the residential garage door and those doors are built with a compartmentalized, or paneled, construction. This means there are individual panels (sections) that are held together by hinges. The hinges are secured to the doors stiles (# 3). The stiles (# 3) are heavier duty steel that runs vertically down the door to aid in holding the panels in place and giving the lightweight metal more strength. If you’re dealing with a more modern door you may also see angle iron bracing that runs horizontally that attaches to the stiles for added strength as well. Your standard residential overhead door will have two outer stiles near the garage doors guide tracks and one in the center (See Figure 1). When you’re cutting these doors you will feel when the saw slows down slightly as it goes from the thinner gauged sheet metal and into the stile or horizontal bracing, remember to keep a constant forward pressure and allow the saw and blade to do the work, faster is not always better when it comes to cutting metal. The other forms of overhead doors can be solid corrugated metal that run throughout the length of the door and aren’t individually paneled or even made of wood.




So, now that we have a basic knowledge of your stand overhead sectional garage door; let’s look at what options we have before we even begin to cut the overhead door. The size-up is critical. We should start every single task we are doing with a size-up, and forcing entry into garage doors is no different. We first want to “try before we pry” and indeed make sure the door is locked. If there is a swinging door next to the garage and the conditions allow; it may be best to force it and then go inside and open the garage door properly. If it’s a commercial roll up door on a storage unit; the external padlock may be the best option. You can cut it and then slide the latch bolt over and raise the door. We can cut a smaller h*** near the top of the garage door and use a pike pole or other tool to reach in and pull the release linkage on automatic garage doors and then raise the door. It may be necessary to cut a smaller h*** near the guide tracks and reach in and feel for a sliding latch bolt and slide it over to unlock the door. You can see there is more than one way to get into these doors and the quickest and easiest avenue should be taken before you commit to cut the door, but it all starts with knowledge of how they work and a size-up.




            What tools are we going to use to force entry into overhead doors? I know what you’re thinking; rotary saw right? The rotary saw is a great choice, but it’s not your only one and truly the rotary saw has some limitations. The main one being maneuverability when at full RPMs, weight, and size. When it comes to lightweight metal or wood garage doors; a chainsaw with a good carbide-tooth chain can be very effective. It’s very maneuverable when the RPM’s are high and it has a deeper cut than the circular saw (depending on bar size). A chainsaw with a standard chain may work for you, but it will only get so far before the chain dulls and you’re left with second options. The circular saw is the strongest and most reliable. It can handle the lightest of doors and the heavier enforced commercial doors. I would again recommend a carbide-tipped blade. The segmented carbide will work flawlessly and will more than likely allow you to complete the whole cut, or cut multiple overhead doors, before you need to replace it. The fiber aluminum oxide abrasive discs’ tend to wear down rather quickly when cutting metal doors and could cause you to stop and replace the disk mid-cut.



Just like in vertical ventilation, we use several different cut patterns for the conditions we’re up against, and overhead sectional doors are no different. The most commonly taught cut pattern is the Triangle Cut. It has other names such as The Inverted “V” and the Tee-Pee Cut. This is the easiest of the two cut patterns we are going to talk about because it can be completed with only two cuts. When those two cuts are completed the “triangle” can be laid flat on the ground and allow access into the structure. There is a three cut method for this, but it’s not worth showing in my opinion because it creates the same opening shape and size, and requires you to make another cut across the top. You can eliminate that by using the two cut method and overlapping your cuts at the top, just like you overlap your cuts on roofs. The Tee-Pee Cut is an effective way to gain access into overhead sectional doors but it’s not the best option when you want as wide open of space as possible; either for entering or exiting as working crews or when using defensive fire operations. The larger the h*** you can make the better, and for that, you can’t go wrong with the Door within a Door cut. The Door within a Door is a pattern requiring four cuts. This cut sequence will allow you to use the uncut side of the garage door as a “hinge” and swing the door wide open, creating a much larger h*** than the Tee-Pee Cut. Although it takes slightly more time to complete; the overall more wide open space is more effective for working crews and for fire attack purposes.

Cut 1 is a vertical cut down one side of the garage. You will want to inset this cut about 6 inches so you aren’t running the saw straight down a stile the whole way and stop just a few inches before you hit the ground. Cut 2 is an angular cut that overlaps Cut 1 and goes towards the ground. This creates a small triangle shape. When this cut is complete it is now necessary to take a tool and push or pull the sheet metal in or out to create a small opening. This opening is for the head of the rotary saw to fit into and make Cut 3. Cut 3 is a cut that will go through the bottom retainer rail and weather stripping. This will allow the door to swing open when once Cut 4 is complete. If you want to create a small gap at the bottom of the door for this cut just place a Halligan on the ground and run a long pulling tool under the garage doors retainer rail. When you have the tool in place press down on the Halligan with the pulling tool to create leverage and a small gap will be shown; keep cutting until all the way through. Cut 4 is your final cut. It is the horizontal cut that will overlap Cut 1 and run the width of the garage door. When this cut is complete you can now pull from the cut side towards the un-cut side and use the un-cut side as a hinge. This will create the wide open space we call the “Door within a Door”.



I hope this article aids in your knowledge and understanding of overhead sectional doors. There are many ways to gain access into these doors and it all begins with a good scene size-up and training. The next time you go to your local box stores (Lowes and Home Depot) ask them if they have any slightly damaged corrugated metal and use it to build a make shift garage door, sometimes they will even donate a few sheets. When you have the materials in hand and the doors are built put these cut sequences to work. We will only resort back to our highest level of training when we need it the most.


Stay Safe, and Stay Low!


-First-In FireFighter

Photo 1 (MDFR Crew): Danny Hammontree

Photo 2 (Saws): Brian Zaitz

Photo 3 (Rogersville Structure Fire): Unknown

Photo 4 (Tee Pee Cut/Door): Ted Corporandy

Photo 5/6: Karl Klotz

Photos of Garage Doors with Cut Sequences: Chad Menard



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