Incident commanders should consider the type of construction, possible entry points and the types of securing devices present and establish the most appropriate equipment and techniques for the specific situation. Selecting the right tool and techniques can save valuable time, could save lives and may also assist in mitigating any damage.
In most fire situations, the level of urgency and the method of entry will, to a great degree, depend on the time-critical nature of events. For example, if rapid entry is needed to save a life or prevent more serious damage or firespread, crews may not have the opportunity to limit any damage.
However, when the situation appears less urgent, firefighters can take more time and potentially select a less invasive technique to minimise or prevent any unnecessary damage. For example, the activation of an automatic fire alarm in a closed business in the middle of the night is much less likely to be a life-threatening situation than a call where people are reportedly in distress or trapped.
A huge range, and countless variations, of elements such as doors, windows, locks and security devices may be encountered depending on the type of premises. Firefighters should be familiar with the common styles of windows, doors, locks and security devices in their local area and with those that may be unique to certain types of premises, such as police custody suites, prisons and detention centres, hospitals or secure units.
The optimum time to build knowledge and understanding of unique sites and specific components is during Site-Specific Risk Information (SSRI) and pre-incident planning visits in compliance with current legislation. Arranging tours or inspections of buildings under construction and renovation is also an excellent way to learn about building construction and examine different security devices.
See National Operational Guidance: Operations - Risk Information Gathering
Incident commanders will need to evaluate all the information presented before deciding on a course of action. This includes:
- Confirming that firefighters are at the correct address or location: where it is not obvious, it is important to check and establish that the address or location is correct and that crews are forcing entry to the correct premises, room or compartment
- Considering implementing defensive firefighting actions before making a forcible entry
- Establishing the severity and level of urgency related to the incident. For example, where flames and smoke are visible and people reported missing, trapped or in distress, the methods of forcing entry may cause damage that requires more expensive repairs to doors, windows or parts of the structure
- Selecting the safest and simplest method of gaining entry. When considering how to make entry, the objective should be balanced with the severity or urgency of the emergency. Crews should generally attempt to enter with the least damage in the shortest amount of time.
- Before forcing entry, a simple rule is 'try before you pry'. Always check doors and windows to confirm that forcible entry is actually required. An unlocked door requires no force; a window that can be opened does not need to be broken. Taking a few seconds to check could save several minutes of effort and unnecessary property damage.
- Checking for alternative means of entry or entry points can also ensure that crews are not spending time working on a locked door when, for example, a nearby window provides easy access to the same room
- Selecting the most appropriate tools and equipment to effect entry
- Consider the creation of an access/entry point where one did not previously exist to reduce the travel distance for BA wearers to exit a hazard area. Consideration should be given to the equipment and time required to create a new opening and the structural integrity of the building.
In most circumstances, personnel should:
- Select the point of entry and the method of gaining entry as part of the initial incident plan.
- Ensure that the efforts of different crews are properly co-ordinated for safe, effective operations. For example, all actions taken to force entry should be co-ordinated with breathing apparatus teams and firefighters to ensure that firefighting, safety and/or covering jets are in place and ready to advance before forcing access.
- Consider whether the action of forcing an opening to a building or compartment will create a flow path that allows air to enter the structure. This could contribute to an increase in fire development that may lead to events including flashover or backdraught.
- Consider that making an opening at the wrong location could undermine a well-planned fire intervention and impact on the overall ventilation strategy
- Consider entry as part of a ventilation strategy and ensure it is co-ordinated with the overall tactical plan