“Command to Truck 8… Open the Roof”

So many things come into mind when this comment comes over the radio!  Everything from building construction, access, fire location and the roof condition.  Is the roof peaked, flat, wood or metal deck?  These are just some of the considerations that will dictate, what tools will make the climb!  All of which can be predetermined with district familiarization.  Just a look around during the automatic alarm call or a glance at the neighborhood on the way back to your quarters.  This can play a huge part in how efficient you and your company operate.

Knowing your equipment.  Where to find it, and most importantly, how to use it!  Will get the job done quickly!  With all of that being said, you need to recognize the conditions so that the Brothers & Sisters come down the same way they went up?  The pictures show some of what can work for you.  Everyone has some different things to throw into the mix.  

  • CHAINSAWS – They can do the work for you provided they’re maintained well and used properly.  Everything from wood to the top layer (Composite material) of a metal deck roof.
  • ROTARY SAWS – Finish the cut on that metal deck roof after the the composite is pulled!  Remove the top of bulkheads.  If the saw stays on the ground, it can make some forcible entry work go easily. Taking those bars and tearing up roll down doors!
  • FLATHEAD AXE– What happens when the saw goes down?  Oh yeah thats right!  Old School!  In all reality, the job can get done very quickly using the striking side to break that planking!
  • PICKHEAD AXE – Not my first choice!  Can be used…
  • TRASH HOOK – Great for pulling up the roof!  And pushing down the ceiling.  Can be used as a foot hold by driving one end of the fork into the roof and and holding the end of the handle.  Allows for some room to move!
  • ROOF HOOK – Good for push/pull and prying up planking and other roofing materials.
  • HALLIGAN BAR – Great foot hold, by driving the pick in.  Popping stubborn bulkhead doors!

There’s a plethora of tools and combinations that can be used!  We all know that it may not always be the truck making the climb!  That’s right!  Staffing plays with all of us!  The water Buffalo’s on the engine might be going up!  We all need to be ” COMBAT READY ” !  Know those tools.  Take care of them and they’ll take care of you!

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6 Responses

  1. Dan,

    I must agree getting the right tools there the first time makes life go a lot easier on the roof!
    Knowing your local alarm district will definitely go a long way with this theory. Like you said take advantage of the non-fire runs to observe the construction of the buildings. Know where your stairwells are that have roof access, know where your skylights open up to, has this building been remodeled 6 or 7 times and if so how many roof layers does it potentially have? Does it have a rain roof (Killer of firefighters), when they WERE remodeling did you and your company take time to stop by and see what type of materials they were using? Was it steel I beams or Laminate board beams, or was it lightweight roof trusses? Was it plywood, OSB board, planking, metal, or composite roofing?
    Not only will this information give you and idea of what to bring it will also give you an idea of how long to be up there! If you know it is construction with heavy timbers or true dimension lumber you have a little time, but if you watched the construction of light weight trusses you know time is tight.
    As far as tools go I have to agree with everything you said above. I do recommend practicing with the old school manual approach when drilling so you have an understanding of how the tools work best. For instance it is much easier to use the flat striking end of an axe to open up in many cases than to use the cutting end. It will not get stuck in the roof boards as easily, and it makes a bigger hole on impact than the cutting edge. I am a firm believer that you should be as proficient with the hand tools as you are with the power tools. People get complacent with the advantages of power tools and forget the skill requirements and practices of hand tools all too often. Yes it is just an axe, but learn to make it work for you as opposed to doing all the work. It is easier to practice under conditions that are controlled than to need the skills at 3am on a snow covered roof with a -20* wind chill.

  2. Maybe I’m missing something, but as Capt. Dugan says, “what is the REAL purpose of a pickhead axe?”

  3. The most important tool on the roof besides the fireman is the pick head axe. As stated above you should be proficient with hand tools incase your saws break down. Traditionally, as the name of this website implies, the pick head axe was the roof mans tool of choice. Look at the design of axe head. It makes a perfect fulcrum for prying up hatches, skylightsand some bulkheads. After you make your cuts use the pick end to peel the top layer of roofing material away, then hit the pick end into the top corner of your cut. Your partner then hits the other top corner with his pick and you both work together to peel the wood layer back. This is the main technique used at 13 Truck in Washington D.C. We use a three cut method called shallow, deep, deep. The the truck drivers at 13 Truck use this method and the pick head axe is carried by both the Driver and Tillerman. Personnally I feel the flat head axe should be placed in the compartment and left there, even for foreced entry the sledge hammer should be used in place of the flat head axe.

  4. Will,

    I have to say – I’ve had better experience on the roof with a flathead axe than a pick head. A pickhead axe gives you two options: cutting or prying – you can’t use it as a striking tool. It seems that when trying to CUT a roof hole with an axe you spend more time trying to get the blade out then you did getting it in. It also seems that you don’t always get through the wood on the first cut. The flat head axe gives you two options… You can cut, but you can also STRIKE.

    The pickhead axe has always been the quintessential roofman’s tool, so I never even thought of trying “bash” through a roof with a blunt tool such as a sledge or back of a flat-axe. However while drilling on some old apartments at 3rd & I St SE one day, Dave Pylar (T-3-2) got me to try it, and I have to say it worked a hell of a lot better.

    Since then I’ve talked to some of the older guys about it. To my surprise, my LT confirmed then when he was a tillerman at T-4 their standard act was to pull back some of the roofing material with a hook or bar and then bash through the wood with the flat axe or sledge. As it seems, we’re not the only ones doing this – as mentioned above a lot of major northeast departments have found this technique tried & true. As for prying the hatches and skylights you can get the same functionality out of your halligan-hook or a bar.

    I’m certainly open to new techniques though and would be very interested in seeing 13 Truck’s techniques – as the company & its members certainly are well respected. Hopefully the Truck Company Back-to-Basics program will go through and we can try it out and share some more ideas around the department.

    As for forcible entry, if you’ve got a 10-12lbs sledge – I’ll give you it has more driving force… However I’m a big fan of the 8lbs flathead. If you’ve maxed out the leverage on the bar, the blade of the axe works well to hold what you’ve got while you reposition the bar to reset the leverage, no option to do that with the sledge.

    Thanks for the comments,
    -Nick

    As a side note, Detroit & Buffalo FD’s still seem to use axes as their primary vertical ventilation technique…”The axe never fails to start….”

  5. […] more fore video and to participate in our poll… This topic came up in the comments to Danny Doyle’s previous post about what he takes to the roof.  Like most firemen, I grew up thinking that the pick-axe was the […]

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