Firefighter Through-The-Lock; Respectful Entry

Firefighter Through-The-Lock; Respectful Entry

Firefighter Through-The-Lock; Respectful Entry

July 5, 2019
For in-depth media demonstrations and explanations, please visit our social media pages and our YouTube channel. Links are found at the end of the article. 

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.IMG_5446

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.

On the right calls for the right reasons, we work to reduce or eliminate the damage caused by the fire department and enter like gentlemen.

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.

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.

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.

  1. Non-destructive entry. No damage at all. Bypasses, defeats, loids, “tricks”, etc. This includes the use of beveled tools, bump keys, REX PIR bypasses, double-door tools, duster (yes, a can of duster!), thumb-turning devices, door shims, air wedges, shove knives, etc. The under-the-door tool, Sparrows Longshot, and other bypass and defeat tools are employed as well. We’ve even opened doors with suction cups.
  2. Lock damage only. This includes pulling the cylinder on a key-in-knob (more often than not being able to replace the cylinder with only minor cosmetic damage), using a Rex tool on a deadbolt & cutting the screws, knob pulls, mortise and slam latch lock cylinder removals (multiple techniques) and any other method in which the lock only is damaged or altered. Think hardware store trip fix that a homeowner could repair themselves.
  3. Lock & door damage. As the incident or the type of call dictates the urgency, so does the methods used to gain access. This includes methods to gain entry where the frame is not damaged in the process. This could include cosmetic damage to the door in the act of gaining entry through-the-lock.
  4. Lock, door, & frame damage. Nearing conventional forcible entry. This is essentially blowing the door open with the locks engaged. These entries commonly require special knowledge to re-secure beyond what the average homeowner or business owner possesses. Going conventional on a door where you could have gone through-the-lock or employed other respectful entry tactics leads to unnecessary costs in the way of time, money, and reputation. Your department’s relationship with the homeowner or business owner will also suffer. Furthermore, not going in at all or making entry whatsoever can be even more costly. 60678548_2329015310674071_6405588777296723968_n

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.

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What’s in your bag?

The premier Respectful Entry Kit/ Through-The-Lock bag starts here.

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.

  • Beveled loiding device (Framing square cut to a smooth, progressive bevel). Used to defeat mortise slam latches and any type of latch that is gapped and able to be loided. These doors are most often outward-swinging exterior doors that you can gain access to the entire building with. These often fit the same bill for those that can be loided using a shove knife but are covered by some type of latch guard; seemingly preventing this type of attack.  A progressive bevel and a gapping tool allows for this method to be employed and is completely non-destructive. There is much more control and less finesse required with a properly gapped/ spread door and a beveled framing square than is required with a shove knife. The shove knife definitely has its place though. These tools are able to be used in residential applications but have high success at schools, theaters, stores, and office buildings. IMG_7236
  • J-Tool (double-door tool). This is a thin metal rod that is shaped in a J or U shape. This allows for the tool to pass between double doors with no mullion. The door mullion is the piece of metal that double doors come to in the center. The J-Tool activates the panic hardware or the mortise slam latch paddle and tricks the door into thinking you are someone exiting the structure. A lot of bypasses and defeats hinge on this premise; you are inside trying to exit when in fact you are outside attempting to gain access/ ingress. These can also be heated or cooled and inserted to bypass request-to-exit passive infrared motion detectors. Any type of action you can reach with the tool (panic hardware, request to exit buttons, panic paddles, single doors with no door stops, REX PIR sensors) will permit access with proper use. These doors are often found in schools, theaters, stores, and office buildings.
  • Thumb-turning tool. InOurGear LLC. makes “The JV Tool”. The JV Tool was developed by a Howard County, MD firefighter and is the premier device easily accessible to the fire service. This tool exploits the lack of a center separation (mullion) on double doors and turns the thumb turn on mortise locks. Again, much like someone trying to open their business for the day. Thumb turns are incredibly common in commercial structures. They allow for all of the employees to lock the building at the end of the night and do so without a key. This tool also works on single doors with no door stop or mullion. Any door with a small gap and a thumb turn cylinder will be able to be negotiated with the JV Tool.
  • Shove knife. Everyone carries one; most don’t know how to use them. Hell, I carried one for years and never understood how or why they worked or didn’t work. For a shove knife to be employed, you must gap the loiding pin so that the door “thinks” it is open and being shut. A quality shove knife from a locksmith tool manufacturer rather than a firefighter store special makes a world of difference. Shove knives work incredibly well on a variety of inward and outward swinging doors.
  • Door shims. These come in the way of the BADAXX Unforcer & the Firefighter Swipe Tool. We believe both are necessary to carry for their own advantages. The Unforcer is made of Mylar and is .030mm thick and comes with two door knob grabs that can be used to secure the door open after access is gained. At this thickness, the Unforcer is a bit more resilient to use and abuse and fits in most commercial door applications. The doorknob slots are an advantage when used for that application and a slight disadvantage to feeding it in a tight door. The Firefighter Swipe Tool was developed by an FDNY Lieutenant and is another variation of the door shim. At .014mm, it is much thinner and can navigate very tight doors and ride over latch plates and other obstructions in the stile/ stop of the door. The notched version also acts as a shove knife for outward swinging doors. Both are a must to carry. If you examine what most locksmiths carry in the way of shims, you’ll discover a varying thickness and design in their shim selection. The same goes for the fire department gaining the same type of entry on a request for service.
  • Aluminum forcible entry wedge. Used as gapping tool, to capture progress, and to lift or spread doors and locks. The aluminum wedge softly and respectfully gaps everything you need – handheld or with a light tap of a mallet. Things get disrespectful (conventional FE)? Drive it home; it will work with you and your process/ system to escalate the damage and effect entry. Pro tip: cover the end of your wedge in a cardboard or a paper table placard to further eliminate tool marks on the door or frame. You can also grip the end of the wedge with a tool to gain mechanical advantage. In most applications for TTL/ RE, this is the only gapping tool you should need. 61226160_2335021163406819_6433993444724572160_n

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.IMG_5427

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.IMG-6454

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.


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.


John Buttrick

Coastal Fire Training, LLC. 

(757) 846-8858

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