Updated: Jan 19
Blog By: FireRein Team
With files from Wikipedia and IFSTA Essentials of Fire Fighting and Fire Department Operations, 6th Edition
Built on Legacy, Forged by Fire
The Halligan Bar, or simply Halligan, is considered one of the three most iconic tools
of the Fire Service, alongside the pike pole and axe. Used most often for forcible entry
into structures and vehicles, the namesake of New York City Fire Department (FDNY)
First Deputy Chief Hugh Halligan was designed by him in 1948 as an upgrade to the
Kelly tool, and the first model was made later that year by blacksmith Peter Clarke.
From its initial adoption by the Boston and New York fire departments, use of the Halligan quickly spread across North America, and soon the world. It really was one of the earliest examples of a multitool in the modern era, and may be utilized for prying, twisting, punching, or striking. Available in varying lengths, from 18–54 inches (46–137 cm), it is typically made from chromed high-carbon steel and other hardened metals. While military and SWAT police have adopted a matte black tactical finish for their tools, we prefer to
use chrome tools for their greater visibility in smoky conditions and better rust resistance.
The Halligan is comprised of a solid cylindrical bar with a two-pronged claw fork on the lower end, and an adze and pick set at a 90° angle apart on the head. The flat, curved adze blade may be used as a wedge to pry open a door. The pick may be used to punch through a cylinder lock by placing its point touching the face of the lock, and then striking the back of the Halligan head with a sledgehammer or the back of an axe head. The claw fork may be used to pry open a door; it may also be jammed over an exposed hinge and then struck on the head to quickly pop the hinge out from the frame, thereby preventing undue damage to the door and frame being breached.
Early adopters of the Halligan discovered they could carry both the Halligan and an
axe together at the same time by wedging the axe blade into the slit of the claw fork
and resting the axe handle into the space between the adze and pick. This versatility allowed firefighters to carry two tools together in one hand, and a hose line or third
piece of equipment in the other, or to be able to feel a wall or search for victims with the unencumbered hand. The coupling of the Halligan and axe came to be known as The Irons.
When forcing entry into a vehicle, the three implements of the Halligan may be employed to pierce, pry, and twist the sheet metal to expose the hinges and other structural components that may then be cut with other tools or saws. If the firefighter only has a Halligan, it may still be used to break through hinges, locks, and latches to free trapped victims. The heavy head makes short work of any door and windshield glass, allowing first responders to quickly access injured persons.
Improvisation, often under duress, is a hallmark of the firefighter’s skillset. In the over
70 years since its inception, the Halligan has been used as a step-up for window access,
a roof foothold, a drywall breacher, and a gas valve shut off tool, among many other applications.
FireRein salutes First Deputy Chief Hugh Halligan and Peter Clarke for their contribution
to the Fire Service, and we’re proud to join our first responder colleagues who continue to depend on their "Tool of the Trade" every day.