As a modern fire service, we are constantly seeking methods and tactics to increase our service delivery model and to have better trained, better equipped firefighters and to strengthen our relationship with our citizens and business owners while effecting efficient & effective entries on calls. This mantra extends to EMS and law enforcement; welfare checks to tactical & rescue task force entries. The ability to safely re-secure the occupancy upon clearing the call is high on the priority list as well.
Firefighter through-the-lock & Respectful Entry: A less destructive and more technical entry that results in gaining patient and occupant access on certain specific types of Fire, EMS, law enforcement, and service calls we all routinely respond to. The process we profess is simple and begins with non-destructive methods. These include bypasses, defeats, loids, and other "tricks" that cause no damage to the occupancy. A basic understanding of doors, locks, and securing systems is paramount. Going just beyond that, you escalate to isolating the damage/ attack to the lock itself. These are often repaired by the fire department and are limited to damage such as that an average homeowner can repair without the need for a contractor, locksmith, or carpenter. If the door/ lock/ frame dictates, you escalate the attack to lock and door damage. Finally, lock, door, and frame damage. This is where conventional forcible entry meets respectful entry and requires the homeowner/ business owner to contact specialty resources to repair the door, lock, glass (yikes!) and frame. Some doors, frames, and locks downright require some type of destruction/ definitive damage to defeat or bypass.
Instead of conventionally forcing a door with all of the locks in place, we can work to defeat one, two, or maybe all of the locks in place in a similar time frame by using a process and a plan; giving the specific type of call we are running.
Professionals. Choosing the right door when given options is important; use the door the occupants/ business owner uses to exit for the day or night. These are often the "softer" doors. Convenience is the enemy of security.
I won't attempt to write the playbook for when you should and should not use these methods. We do offer a model Standard Operating Procedure for departmental dissemination that is available upon request but common sense and professionalism must prevail. If you train, all of these methods can be effected in seconds; saving time, money, energy, and making your department look great.
If you know how, you'll know when.
Know what you are doing, what you are up against, and why you are doing it. Progress through a process and a plan that escalates damage to only of that required; consistent with the type of call you are on. In order to truly understand & master conventional forcible entry, a working knowledge of through-the-lock & respectful entry is required. We advocate that you always bring your conventional forcible entry tools forward with your TTL/ RE bag. You may need them. You may have to go conventional or a hybrid of both methods if conditions or reports change and you have to be prepared for that.
Respectful Entry. A term that means remember where you work and why we do what we do. Assigned to a truck company in a low-income neighborhood, most people in my first due can’t afford or don’t have the means- either from a lack of intelligence or lack of funding – to fix what we damage. This leads to theft, higher crime, and a potentially dangerous situation in the future for the occupant and/or the business. A small kitchen fire or water leak would drive most people out for the night. If you don’t have a front or back door or somewhere to take a large family with small children and one provider, you ride it out at home so people don’t steal your belongings the second they watch you leave. Think about it. People don’t want to leave their homes. It's all they have. Be nice. Do your job. Protect their castle. Don’t suck. Be informed. This stuff is not hard. Pay attention, learn something, and do right by the people we serve.
Live-locks do unpredictable things. We have forced in training and on the street numerous types of locks and locksets on all types of doors. In fact, we don’t own many training props that do not use non-factory lock material/ hardware. Everything we demo or use is a real working lock (front and back with factory specification hardware). Outside of real-world reps, this leads to the most realistic training possible.
Through-the-lock forcible entry dates back in modern times to the Sunilla tool developed in the FDNY and the other variations that followed or were developed independently. None of this stuff is new... the tactics and training are making a comeback because of the increased pressure by our constituents to be better stewards of their property and the ever increasing popularity and frequency of doorbell cameras, security cameras, cell phone videos & pictures, body & helmet worn cameras, etc. No one wants to be the next meme or social media video; either knocking on the door of a well-involved house fire or kicking in the door to help grandma off the floor and not being able to re-secure her door.
For us personally, the love of the job and a desire to be an apprentice and a journeyman led us by dumb luck to the niche of through-the-lock forcible entry and a series of bypasses and defeats that we have honed since beginning this endeavor. What started off as a raid of vacant buildings for anything training related sometimes left us only with doors and locks. Those locks led us to small fire-station props to where we are today.
What are you guys doing? What is it that you do exactly?
It's rather simple. Only mutts and noisemakers make it complicated. We have always loved forcible entry and truck work. From there was borne an attraction to a subset of forcible entry that gains access by the least destructive, often non-destructive, method possible and allows for quick and efficient access, improved citizen and business relationships, the ability to safely re-secure occupancies, and divorces from the macho-beating-on-my-chest mentality of using the irons for everything. The basics don’t change. We remember why we are there, why we have the privilege of riding on the rig, and what we are trying to accomplish. Then we accomplish it. Don’t make promises you can’t keep; “Watch this magic show, we won’t do any damage!”
Set out to perform a systematic delivery of damage escalation.
Lock damage goes over so much better than frame and door damage and your caring ways go a long way even after the call. The family members who view the damage you leave behind, have to come to fix it themselves or hire someone, or the repairman himself will be able to tell how much you tried – or didn’t try- to be tactful and respectful in your entry. The damage should match the call.
We advocate for your special service apparatus to be outfitted with TTL/ RE bags and the members assigned to those units be trained in the theory and application of TTL/ RE. It’s very simple stuff. A deep breath and some mechanical aptitude go a long way. None of this is new or anything special we came up with ourselves. If you have a truck that always goes on lockouts/ lock-ins (Truck/ Ladder Co. or the Rescue Co.) outfit those pieces first. Ideally, the members assigned to the Truck Companies and the Rescue/ Squad Companies are your best forcible entry personnel anyway.
Remember, we aren't the bad guys. We can get in and set off the security and alarm systems and get videotaped the entire time doing it. It is okay. Many of these methods work because the occupancy does not wholly rely on the physical security aspects for their asset protection; they rely on cameras and other electronic/ digital means we are not concerned with as long as physical access can be gained. Those with fire & medical alarm systems want to alert you to a problem or a possible problem. Investigate it. Merely peering through the windows with "nothing showing" means nothing. Often with these methods and a little bit of training with the right tools and tactics, you can enter, clear the building, reset the alarm, and re-secure the building just as you found it.
The best way to go about building a Respectful Entry/ Through-The-Lock Kit is to not duplicate or buy anything you already have on the truck. If you have halfway decent tools in your toolbox on the apparatus, I would advocate that you only obtain the specialized tools listed below.
Every truck out there can fit this bag or something similar; even a command vehicle, EMS unit, or staff car that routinely responds alone or without a close-by special service apparatus. All of these tools can be purchased and assembled at a relatively low cost; especially considering the return on investment for your stakeholders and your professionalism. The items above are universal to every fire department in America and are the place to start. From there, make your bag, yours. Set it up for your district and your residential and commercial occupancies of the area you serve.
Yours, your, you. Pride and ownership go a long way here. Get out in your first and second due and put your hands on the tools, locks, and doors of your run district. Touch everything. Talk to business owners and explain what you are doing and they will welcome the thought of your training to not destroy their stuff. You will get some great TTL/ RE training in once you arrive at the business or run an EMS call at a house and pay just a little bit closer attention to their locks and doors. Pre-plan magnetic locks, door sensor locations, and other auxiliary locks in buildings that change occupancy often; these will be the buildings with incorrect or missing keys in the Knox box. Debrief after a fire alarm or shoe run and talk about your entry plan for when the Knox Box is empty or has the wrong keys.
Common sense. Use your damn head. If you have the training & tools, try it. Strike time from the equation because often these methods do less damage and gain entry in a lesser amount of time compared to conventional forcible entry. The right doors at the right time on the right calls. That's it. What does that look like? Fires? Maybe. Consider spinning out a cylinder on a glass storefront door as a means to control and own the fire ground; owning the air tract and making it work for you. EMS calls? Maybe. What are you there for? Did grandma fall down and can't get up? Do you have voice contact? Service calls? Shake your head yes. Water leaks, food left on the stove, etc. Again.............
If you know how, you'll know when. Let the conditions dictate the tactics.
Overall, the majority of incidents we all respond to are investigations; automatic fire alarms, unknown odors, "I think I see something but I'm not sure", and low priority EMS and welfare calls. From the largest fire departments in the world to the smallest, Respectful Entry tactics, training, and tools will absolutely benefit your department. The feedback from the citizens and business owners is overwhelming and being able to resecure the occupancy upon clearing is a huge benefit. Wasted time on-scene will decrease and your success in carrying out your mission statement will increase.
For every type of lock, there is a defeat, bypass, or circumvention for it. That is the world we live in. Secure it and someone will spend time trying to figure out how to defeat it.
Safety: DO THEY KNOW YOU ARE THERE?
If there is an occupant and they are able to physically cause harm to you, let them be introduced to your presence in the form of sirens, lights, rigs running, and clear communication. Light the scene up and make noise! Seek to make your official presence known and to establish communication with the occupant(s). Maintain a strong sense of situational awareness. Does it feel right? Consider the time of day and the type of call. Does it make sense? Call history to this address?
Light the scene up, make loud, obvious noises and have dispatch call the occupancy repeatedly while you attempt to gain entry.
"We aren't locksmiths". Well... we aren't plumbers, fire alarm technicians, carpenters, counselors, HVAC technicians, elevator technicians, or janitors.......... oh, wait.
The public expects and deserves perfection when they call 911.
Knox boxes are empty or have the wrong keys, key holders don't live in your city, buildings are soft, you can be better. Raise your standards and learn something fun; skills that you can use to save time on the scene, your citizens and businesses costly repairs, and have some fun with your crew and interacting with your community while doing it. This is all about increasing your service delivery model and having better trained, better-equipped firefighters and a strengthened relationship with your citizens and business owners while effecting efficient & effective entries on calls.
Coastal Fire Training, LLC.