March 7, 2009 in Washington Voices

Firefighters take a whack at safe-cracking

By The Spokesman-Review
 
John Craig photo

Spokane Valley firefighters use a Halligan tool and an ax, together called “the irons,” to crack a safe for police.
(Full-size photo)

Firefighters are good at breaking and entering, but the Spokane Valley Fire Department has taken it to a new level.

An engine crew from Station 3 in Liberty Lake cracked a safe for Spokane Valley Police last week during the search of a home at 17914 E. Montgomery Ave.

There were checks, identification documents and a large amount of cash in the safe, the firefighters reported.

“It’s always nice, going to help the Sheriff’s Department,” which provides police service in Spokane Valley, Deputy Fire Marshal Bill Clifford said.

He said the firefighters used standard tools of their trade – an ax and a Halligan bar, together known as “the irons” – to pop the safe on Feb. 24.

A Halligan bar is a “very useful, versatile tool,” Clifford said. It has a forked claw on one end for pulling apart locks and the combination of an adze and a tapered pick on the other end for prying open doors. The adze and pick typically are driven with the hammer edge of a fire ax.

According to several suppliers, the tool is named after Hugh Halligan, a New York Fire Department deputy chief who invented it in the late 1940s.

Although the tool is designed for opening doors by force, Clifford said it has a wide variety of uses.

For example, he said the pick end is great for puncturing tires when firefighters need to prevent a wrecked vehicle from rolling or tipping. Or, when they need a foothold on a steep or slippery roof, firefighters drive the pick into the roof and step on the flat adze blade, which is attached at a right angle to the pick.

The safe-cracking caper was one of several occasions when Spokane Valley firefighters assisted police in the 14-day reporting period that ended Wednesday evening with a total of 431 calls.

Clifford said firefighters stood by in case of fire or injury when police used a controlled explosion to disarm an apparent pipe bomb on March 23. Police used a robot to remove the plastic device from a trash can at Einstein’s Car Wash, 307 N. Sullivan Road.

One of six calls for general service also involved police.

Clifford said firefighters were called to 10020 E. Montgomery Ave. shortly after 6 a.m. Monday to silence a honking horn in a vehicle at the side of the street.

“Not only do we unlock car doors, but we disconnect batteries to stop the horn from honking,” Clifford said.

He referred to a staple of fire department rescue operations: the young child accidentally locked inside a car. Parents may rest assured that firefighters don’t use the Halligan tool in those cases.

Nor did they get out the Halligan for a more unusual rescue on Feb. 22. Clifford said firefighters were called to the YMCA at 2421 N. Discovery Place shortly before 1 p.m. when two boys got stuck in an elevator.

Firefighters waited for an elevator technician to free the boys, who were both about 11 years old.

Another call for general service involved an apartment resident whose oxygen pump quit working during a power outage. Firefighters could have dispensed oxygen from their portable equipment, but the power had been restored when they arrived, Clifford said.

Twelve reports of structure fires included one Wednesday morning that caused an estimated $100,000 damage to a home at 18108 E. 11th Ave. No one was home when a neighbor reported smoke shortly before 11:30 a.m.

Clifford said the cause was ruled accidental and electrical, involving a light fixture or wires leading to it.

Firefighters responded to illegal trash fires on Feb. 20 and again on Tuesday.

Clifford urged anyone with doubts about what kind of fires are legal to call the fire department at (509) 928-1700 or visit any fire station.

“We’d be more than happy to educate them instead of sending a fire truck out,” Clifford said.

He said firefighters responded to five minor vehicle fires and three overheated engines.

Seventeen car crashes sent four people to hospitals with minor to severe injuries. Clifford said a woman was trapped in the passenger seat of a BMW when it ran a stop sign on Evergreen Road at 32nd Avenue, and slammed into a tree. The driver and front-seat passenger were hospitalized, but a back-seat passenger walked away.

Firefighters also responded to 362 calls for emergency medical service and 26 building alarms in which nothing but food was burned.

John Craig may be contacted at johnc@spokesman.com.


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