THE “SMITH-IT” & ONE-PERSON ENTRY

THE SMITHIT CONCEPT. Back in one of the very first posts on this site, in a write-up
entitled “Truck 15’s House– Baltimore,

Jerry
Jerry Smith

MD” (under Stations and Places of Note), it was mentioned in passing that when Baltimore City Firefighter Jerry Smith (a very good friend, now with Rescue 1) was riding as acting officer on T15, he would throw a 3# rock hammer into his coat pocket! After a while my curiosity got the best of me and I had to ask why? Well, Balto City truck officers often find themselves responsible for doing forcible entry single-handedly and Jerry thought that if he was going to be doing it solo, he’d rather give up a little striking weight for more precision. Wallah(!): the rock hammer! OK, maybe being a little skeptical, several of us gave it a try– on entry props, car fires (under-hood access), residential calls, etc., and for these and for 90% (or more) of the stuff we do, the results were very impressive:

  • Tight quarters work is significantly enhanced.
  • Low to zero visibility work is enhanced (your kinesthetic abilities let you strike on-target with amazing precision and force).**
  • Reduced weight and bulk = increased agility and mobility.

NOTE** At the very least, most of the people we polled found this method preferable to being hit in the ribs by their “buddy,” flailing away in the dark with a 6-8# axe.

EXPERIMENTATION WITH THE SMITHIT. In our experience with it, the small hand sledge did a pretty good job of setting the Halligan adze or fork into the gap. However, during our experimentation, we did some testing comparing the 3# hammer with a 3-3/4# flat-head axe on a short hand sledge handle. Both showed advantages and limitations. Having a slightly wider face, we felt the hand sledge gave slightly more consistent low/zero-visibility striking. It was also better balanced (which may have accounted for more accurate strikes.  On the other hand, the flat-head axe provided an ever-present (and pretty effective) wedge. And, if the Halligan has squared off shoulders on the fork end, the narrow width of flat-head privides clear advantages when striking in low or zero-visibility conditions.

For optimum use, you’ll need to do a little experimentation with the combo.  For one thing, while the maul is a good all-around striking tool, when working with a Halligan that has square shoulders at the claw end, for tight space striking, I personally prefer a 3.5#-4# flathead axe with a 12″ handle over the rock hammer or maul.  It works pretty well in general, but when sliding/striking, the squared shoulders of squared forks, most of its force is applied to the forks.  By contrast, much of the force of the rounder hand sledge, maul or rock hammer’s face will be applied off-center and deflected).

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Ebay’s full of donor striking tools for use in this set-up– 3-1/2 pound flathead axes and rock hammers are ideal; we prefer a Nupla “Ergo” hammer handle, shortened to around 12″ overall length.

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ENHANCING PORTABILITY– A STEEL STIRRUP. Of course, most small, short-handled  hammers, axes and mauls don’t exactly invite convenient nesting and/or carry with a Halligan. But, there are some pretty simple remedies. Welding a steel stirrup on the end of the tool (as some producers do with their mauls and sledge hammers), is a pretty practical option– the illustration below shows its application to a full-size sledge, but there’s no reason why it can’t be applied equally to a hand sledge, maul or axe (photos by Driver/Operator Chad Berg from Snohomish County, Washington, Ladder Co. 72; it was posted on the excellent vententersearch web site, http://www.vententersearch.com/tips.htm).

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ENHANCING PORTABILITY– SPRING-LOADED RETAINER. In our original introduction to the idea of the Smith-It, we pictured a method of attaching the hammer, maul or axe to the Halligan forks using a spring-loaded bolt. Unfortunately, we failed to explain the bolt mechanism’s construction or operation. So, the following is an effort to clarify the method we prefer for linking the Halligan and a short striking tool. It involves:

  • a) A 3# – 4# striking tool of your choice.
  • b) The Halligan(s) with the thickest fork (at the crotch or bottom of the fork) that you plan to use with this method.
  • c) Two fender washers (wide diameter with a much smaller hole) for a 1/4″ bolt.
  • d) One nut, wing-nut, fiber lock-nut (my preference), or internally threaded handle (shown below) to fit the 1/4″ bolt you plan to use.
  • e) a light-weight coil spring, approximately 1″ long x 1/2″ diameter– not requiring too much pressure, since its strength doesn’t actually come into play.
  • A 1/4″ bolt long enough to thread through all of the above– with the nut in place– without compressing the spring much, if at all.
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The basic approach using a rock hammer (in this case, a 3 pound Estwing, which I think is the coolest looking tool on the planet): Here (starting on the opposite side, out of sight), a) the bolt runs through one washer, b) then through the crotch of the Halligan fork, c) then through the hammer, d) then (visible, again) through the spring (“squished” between the hammer and the next washer), then e) through the washer itself (the one shown is standard, not a fender washer), then f) the wing nut is adjusted to the correct tension for gripping the Halligan fork between the far-side washer and the hammer.

 

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The opposite side of the combination shown above.  Once you’ve adjusted the spring tension where you want it, the Halligan can be fairly easily released by tapping the tip of the forks on the ground or reinserted by pushing on the wing-nut end, sliding the Halligan under the fender washer and tapping the horn end of the Halligan on the ground. Little additional adjustment should be needed. Since all my Halligans are the same (we recommend MalvenWorks, right?), I eventually switched to a fiber lock nut instead of a wing-nut; less bulky, stays in adjustment, and less sharp to push on when spreading the washer for returning the Halligan.

 

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A sketched schematic of the parts and assembly outlined above. It also works on the 3-1/2# flat head axe on a short handle over the hammer, which provides an additional wedge and works nicely for striking the squared shoulders provided on some Halligans when working in really tight quarters.

CASE STUDIES. The following photos show some of the variations explored in developing this Halligan/Maul team of entry tools. Users who like Jerry’s original idea will undoubtedly find additional refinements to improve their compatibility.

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One of the first people to adopt the “spring-loaded” Smith-It as “everyday carry” was Captain Chad Cave of the Frederic County (MD) Department of Fire and Rescue Services (top row of photos). Chad joins the Estwing rock hammer to his Pro-Bar using a spring-loaded bolt and washers. His original (and still current) rig is illustated above.
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On a trip to L.A., a visit to L.A. County Fire Station 170 netted yet another variation on this theme of more efficient one-person entry. Their Truck 170 had two sets of midi-irons (photo above), each Halligan had two pins welded to its side and a hand sledge modified to attach to them. At some point the hammers were retained by hitch pins, but they were currently just retained by gravity, as shown in the top set. The screwdriver slid into a sleeve near the head of the bottom hammer and was held by its longer back peg.

 

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Back on the East Coast, Canada’s Andrew Brassard made a September 29 (2019) Facebook post summarizing some highlights of a recent visit to the Boston FD.  Among the photos included was this shot of a well-worn tool team in what appeared to be the “entry” riding position of one of their rigs. Hit it with as much as you can comfortably wield. But, this photo is a reminder that you need to pay as much attention to the grip as you do to the weight and geometry of the striking surface.

TAKING ALONG A “MARRIED SET,” A “TOOL TEAM,” OR THE “FAMILY?” Do you like some versatility in your personal equipping? Apparently a lot of people do, as evidenced by the frequency with which the fabled Halligan (in its various permutations) is cited as a personal favorite tool. That’s also why the term “Married Set” is almost as familiar as the Halligan, itself. However, we’ve enjoyed promoting combination of the Hawk Tool and Halligan bar combination as the “Tool Team,” an equally symbiotic alternative to the married set. The widths of the adze on the Hawk head and the pike on the raptor are sized so that the forks of most modern Halligan bars fit onto them neatly and firmly for convenient carry. As illustrated below, the Hawk/Raptor combination fits the Halligan in two ways.  Tool Team 4

What’s the next step– should there even BE a next step. Yeah, we think so. As it turns out, when joined together in the bottom configuration, some “Smith-It” configurations fit neatly between the the Hawk and the Halligan forks.

WORK WITH IT– MAKE IT WORK. Even if you’re a forcible entry purist, he bottom line is that, if you: 1) regularly find yourself responsible for forcible entry on your own and/or 2) carry a hook or some other non-striking tool with your Halligan, you should give the lighter-weight rook hammer or hand axe a try.  And, if fact, Jerry’s original method of stuffing the rock hammer in his coat pocket works pretty well, as is. I think the Estwing version is one of the coolest designs on the planet. But, Jerry’s 3# hammer with a wood handle, is a bit lighter and enough shorter that it fits comfortably in most coat pockets. By contrast, the Estwing (also advertised as a 3-pounder) isn’t as pocketable. I find I’m always more conscious of its weight and it is enough longer that some coat pocket flaps won’t close securely around it.

RJ Doin FE w: SmithItCAPITAL FIRE TRAINING. If you find yourself fightin’ fire and hungry for training in the Northeastern U.S., be sure to take a look at Capital Fire Training’s web sight and schedule of class deliveries. The CFT Instructors have earned a very strong reputation for rigorous training with great attention to detail, especially in the areas of integrated engine/truck operation, up-to-date RIT and personal survival strategies, and fire officer development. Robert James (“RJ”) has been a particularly tireless supporter of our company’s efforts to get on its feet– hope you’ll help us return the favor.  Contact: capitolfiretraining.com

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