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The Halligan Bar: Close to 70 Years of Versatility

In a modern day fire service where the norm of preaching and teaching “back to the basics” is a focus, we sometimes contradict ourselves.  By moving away from these “basics” with the latest and greatest tools and equipment that manufacturers have to offer, we end up with many single-purpose tools that while sometimes make our jobs more efficient, empty our wallets faster and take up much-needed space on our apparatus.

It is clear that many of these modern luxuries are actually legitimate necessities (thermal imaging cameras, self-contained breathing apparatus, etc.).  However, as a service, we also seem to be reinventing the wheel by developing 101 tools for 101 different functions. We are weighing ourselves down by carrying a wide array of gadgets and doodads that serve a great, but often singular purpose. This often creates an environment where firefighters are unable to think “outside the box” when performing a desired task and that specific tool is not available or working correctly.

Let’s take a step back and take our tools back to the basics, starting with the one of the most versatile and common piece of equipment we carry—the Halligan bar.  The Halligan bar requires no motor or battery to operate, takes up limited compartment space, requires minimal maintenance, and more importantly has 101 or more uses that can replace many single purpose tools.  The old saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” holds true.  The Halligan bar is as useful and reliable as it has been since 1948, and it can be used during suppression, search, ventilation, technical rescue, equipment/machine stabilization, and self-rescue.

The following are just 10 uses for a Halligan bar that I have used during my career on both the fireground and training ground:

DOOR CONTROL: Once a fortified door has been compromised to gain access to a structure (more often than not thanks to the use of a Halligan), the bar can be used to control an inward swinging door to control the flow path and maintain the doors position until the crews are ready to make the stretch.


FOOTING A LADDER: When a firefighter is not available to foot a ground ladder, utilize the Halligan bar to help stabilize the feet of the ground ladder in place while you are working off of the ladder.


OPEN HOOD: At vehicle fires and motor vehicle collisions, often times the mechanical means of supporting the hood in the open position will be compromised. The Halligan bar can easily be used to prop open and secure the hood while battery terminals are secured or extinguishment is completed. 

EXTENDED REACH: In order to maintain contact with a wall when performing a search, the Halligan bar can help to extend your reach in order to cover a great surface area in a quicker time frame.


STEP UP: For those of us who are somewhat vertically challenged, there are times when a fence or window sill is too high for us to safely and swiftly scale in order to accomplish the task at hand. Using the Halligan bar as a step can allow for us to gain access to areas without the use of short ladders.

HANDLES: In an attempt to remove a downed firefighter from a hazardous environment, the reduced dexterity of a gloved hand and tight fit of the SCBA shoulder straps can make it difficult to lift, pull, and drag a downed firefighter. Utilizing the Halligan bar as a handle allows for a greater grabbing area and makes it easier for two (2) firefighters to perform the task.


STABILIZATION: With safety being paramount in all situations, we have to take measures to ensure our own safety is in place prior to assisting those in need. Using a Halligan bar to push or pull cribbing into place under a load makes for a safer operation.


SURE FOOT: When performing vertical ventilation, times will arise that you will have to step off of the roof ladder.  Driving the pike end of the Halligan bar into the roof and extending the bar down the peak of the roof will create a purchase point that you can use to place your foot and weight on while completing your cuts. 


GROUND CHANGE: By extending the Halligan ahead of you (adz end out) while advancing in a low or crawling position, the weight of the adz end will cause the bar to shift when the adz end slides over a h*** in the floor, step, stair, etc.  In limited visibility situations, the Halligan bar can act an added sense to make you aware of what you are unable to see.


ANCHOR POINT: In efforts to perform self-rescue, the use of a Halligan bar as an anchor point in conjunction with a pre-made bailout kit or a Gemtor and some webbing. The Halligan can be wedged in the corner of a window sill or into a wall to secure a system in place while you bail out of an IDLH environment.

These 10 examples are just a few of the many uses for this single piece of equipment.  The Halligan bar has stood the test of time, the test of sweat, smoke, and soot. There is a reason why this tool has been around for close to 70 years.  Learn how to use it, become proficient with it, and you will reap its many benefits on the incident scene.


AB Turenne is a 22-year veteran of the fire service in Eastern Connecticut. As a Certified Level II Fire Service Instructor, AB's training curriculum has proven to be conducive with the operational needs of those he teaches and in turn has improved the human capital knowledge of many. A graduate from the Master of Public Administration program at Anna Maria College, AB has continued his efforts in training and education by contributing to the Fire Engineering Training Community.

Special thanks to the Poquonnock Bridge Professional Firefighters Local 2704 for providing photos to better illustrate this article.  

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