If you were to ask any of my friends, they would probably agree that I like to tell stories, and lots of them. I try my best (most of the time) to keep them to a minimum, but throughout my life I have been given the opportunity be a part of some amazing things and I can’t help but share my experiences from time to time. Once in a while, these experiences tend to lead to a lesson that I take to heart and in the business of the fire service, everyone can learn from the mistakes and successes of others.
Yesterday was another rainy day in Georgia. The 7th one in a row to be exact. I was working my full time job as a firefighter assigned to Truck Company 52. I was the second person of a crew of 2 (driver & firefighter). We responded early in the shift to a small fire at the Walmart SuperCenter next door and then later to a “wires down” call. Our third call of the day was an “assist” call. Now typically the truck companies in my city respond to Fire, BLS Medical, Assist, and Lockout type calls, so this call was a “routine” type of response. The call was for a patient at a nursing/assisted care facility who was locked in his room.
We arrived on scene and met with the staff who informed us that one of the patient rooms had accidentally become locked from the inside and the person with the patient room keys was not at work that day. Myself and the driver proceeded to the room and made verbal contact with the patient, who stated he was ok.
With any forcible entry scenario, the first task is the same as that of a fireground: Size-Up. I checked the door to make sure it was, in fact, locked (try before you pry) then pushed on it, tapped it with my hand, and looked at the lock, hinges, and jamb. It was an inward-swinging, metal-hinged, lock-in-handle type door found on the interior of most commercial occupancies. Though not always the most difficult to force, the damage would have been significant if a set of irons was used. My driver asked the staff if the room had a window, and when the yes answer was given I began to steer my thinking away from forcing the door.
When using forcible entry techniques, a knowledge of building construction can prove to be a VERY valuable tool to have. Knowing that this building was a 1 story, renovated and refinished, multi-occupant facility, I had a reason to believe that most of the patient rooms (at least on that end of the building or side of the hallway) were going to be similar in design. I counted the number of rooms between the locked one and the exit (1) and then looked in the next room (which was conveniently open) to see how many windows a room contained (also 1). I walked outside and counted windows to find the locked room. I again made verbal contact with the patient inside to ensure I was in the right spot, and then began the size-up process all over again.
The window was actually two windows side-by-side. They were double hung windows, similar to the picture here. The bottom
portion was the panel that slides up and down to open the window, and it was located on the inside (meaning it slides upwards and to the inside of the top portion, reverse of the photo). There were locks present on both sliding panes, also similar to the photo here. I took a look at the locks and realized that they were both in different positions, meaning one was locked and one was not. Unfortunately, I couldn’t tell right away which was which.
On the rig with my gear, I carry a personal hand tool. My tool of choice at the moment is a 26″ New York Roof Hook from Fire Hooks Unlimited. It has the NY Hook on one end and a Prying Head on the other. It’s small, light, and easy to stow in a harness loop or waist-strap. I had carried this tool with me off the rig on this call, thinking it might somehow come in handy. After sizing up the window, I took the prying end of the tool and placed it under the moving pane of the window directly under the lock and attempted to pry upwards. Nothing. I tried the other pane, and again nothing. I HAD to be missing something. My driver came up to me outside and asked if I had made any progress (he had been with the staff attempting to call a key holder). I said no and told him what I had found. He then went inside and into the room that was open and looked at and operated the window lock there. He came back and after another look at the locks on the window panes, it was easy to tell which one was unlocked. I tried again to pry the window with my tool, but came up short again. After pushing on the window a few times, I suddenly realized that the window sill and framing had been freshly painted in the not-so-distant past. I pushed the window once more and realized IT WAS PAINTED SHUT!
On my drivers suggestion, I placed the blade of the prying end of my tool on the seam of the window and applied a sharp force. The seal cracked about a third of the height of the window. After a few more similar movements, and applying the same technique to the other side of the window, I was then able to slide my tool under the window pane, pry the window open, and gain entry to unlock the door.
The lesson learned here is about preparedness.
ALWAYS be prepared for challenging calls, ALWAYS do a complete size up of every situation, ALWAYS bring applicable tools to the scene with you to avoid running back and forth, and take some time to study the less appealing subjects in the essentials book such as building construction. On this call, firefighters worked together as a team to accomplish a task. They put together a knowledge of resources at hand, a knowledge of the building, teamwork, and training in order to accomplish a task in a manner that caused no damage, no injury and a simple solution.
Being prepared isn’t a slogan or a catch phrase, but rather a necessary part of our jobs as firefighters and it is something that we owe to the community we serve and protect every day. You never know when a simple “assist” run will call upon the lesser used skills in your tool kit…
ARE YOU READY?