Blog by Firetown Training Specialist
Padlocks are an easy, inexpensive way for property owners to secure access into specific areas. This common type of lock usually secures mounted hasps by connecting and locking two ends of a chain, or by locking out pre-fabricated hardware on an appliance/machine. Though not commonly seen on main entrance/exit doors of businesses or private dwellings, the padlock can be found on storage unit doors, sheds, fence gates, vehicle access bollard posts, and post-indicator valves (PIVs), to name a few locations.
Bolt cutters are the common tool of choice for to cut padlocks during forcible-entry. Unfortunately, most padlocks are made of case-hardened steel, which is very strong in comparison to the materials that bolt cutters were intended to cut.
You will find that most of the time, a set of bolt cutters will make the cut, using a big effort, but the damage to the tool after continual use will render it ineffective over time. Take a look at the bolt cutters on your apparatus and notice the large elongated nicks taken out of the cutting edges. Not only can you damage your bolt cutters by cutting padlocks, but you can hinder processes on the fireground.
You probably haven’t been assigned the “bolt cutters” on the fireground when your company rolls up. There is another tool (or set of tools) on the fireground that is frequently found in the hands of multiple firefighters – and that’s a set of “irons.”
Whether you choose a flathead axe or a sledge maul, you can marry it with a Halligan bar – and padlocks will fear you. When a padlock fails or fractures, it usually does so at the latch cut on the shackle, or at the base of the shackle where it swivels down inside. It doesn’t take a tremendous amount of force to fail and can even be accomplished by a single firefighter with a tool in each hand.
Refer to the photos below during firefighter training for representation on cutting and forcing padlocks.
Irons Method No. 1: Place the pike end of the Halligan through the shackle of the lock with the striking portion of the Halligan exposed either from the top or the side. One or two good strikes with your axe or maul on the striking surface, and the lock should fail.
Irons Method No. 2: Place the fork end of the Halligan over the shackle of the lock so it is straddled. One or two good strikes with your axe or maul at the base of the fork end, and the lock should fail.
Circular/Rotary Saw Method: Using a set of vice grips and a rotary saw with an abrasive blade, you can capture the padlock at its base to ensure that it does not flap around wildly when the saw contacts the shackle. This can safely be done by securing a leash or piece of webbing to the vice grips and pulling it taunt. Have another firefighter assist with this. However, when operating independently, secure the tension by stepping on the leash/webbing with one foot. Make contact on the shackle of the lock at full throttle and complete your cut.
Bolt Cutter Method: Bolt cutters are great for cutting fencing, light to medium gauge chain, and other soft metals. When you have the option to cut the chain or padlock used in such a combination, cut the link of chain closest to the padlock using the bolt cutters. This enables the property owner to later use his key to unlock the undamaged padlock and pull the slack from the chain to secure the lock to the next available link.
Remember to always try and have an alternative method to what you think will probably work when conducting forcible-entry operations.
About the Author
This blog was submitted by Ed Hadfield of Firetown Training Specialist. Hadfield has more than 27 years of fire service experience, rising through the ranks from Firefighter to Division Chief.