Forcible-entry training in Battle Ground draws firefighters from around the Pacific Northwest (with video)

By Patty Hastings, Columbian breaking news reporter

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As homeowners and business owners secure their properties with sophisticated locks and security systems, area firefighters need to learn how to get inside during an emergency.

Clark County Fire & Rescue hosted a three-day forcible-entry training at their station near Dollars Corner in Battle Ground. Firefighters from stations around the Pacific Northwest — Gig Harbor, Seattle, Portland — were instructed in how to force their way into residential and commercial buildings by local training group Brothers in Battle.

Jesse Avery, a firefighter for the Vancouver Fire Department, and Cody Trestrail, a firefighter for the Portland Fire Bureau, co-founded the organization about a year ago after seeing a need for forcible-entry training. Firefighters need to know how to assess a situation and determine the best way to get inside, while doing minimal damage to the structure. It all depends on the emergency: during an active fire, a quicker entry and more damage is warranted.

At the final Thursday training, the class covered nearly every kind of door and door mechanism -- glass push-bar door you'll find at a school, a reinforced metal door found on the backside of a commercial building, an ornate wrought-iron door with a dead bolt found at area residences. The piles of locks, door knobs and handles made it look as though Brothers in Battle raided Home Depot.

And they did, along with Habitat for Humanity ReStores. They also found parts at homes set to be demolished.

"For Brothers in Battle to come in with all these props, you can't beat it," said Capt. Jesse Martin of CCF&R. He said he appreciates the thought and engineering that went into building the props. "You have to take time and really study this stuff."

Sophisticated defense systems keep criminals out, but they also keep emergency responders from getting to someone who needs help. It's not like the movies; firefighters don't kick in doors. They need to figure out and finagle locking mechanisms if no one is nearby to let them in. During most house fires, Avery explained, no one is home to give them access. With simple techniques, firefighters can defeat locks using hand tools such as vice grips, a flat-headed ax and a Halligan bar.

Understanding how different locks and latches work, helps firefighters defeat them. Instead of destroying the door, they may take out the door cylinder, creating minimal damage and minimal cost for the property owner. Rather than replace the whole door, they replace the cylinder.

"This is incredible," Lt. Kym LeRoy said of the training. She carpooled down here with other firefighters from the Seattle Fire Department.

View a video of the training on The Columbian's YouTube Channel.