Off Beat: No fire, but could you open a safe?

By Emily Gillespie, Columbian breaking news reporter

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A recent call for assistance offered a nice change of pace for members of a Clark County Fire District 6 engine crew.

They weren't dispatched to the Salmon Creek residence for a medical emergency or a house fire. The assignment? Break into a safe.

"It's always fun going on something when people aren't hurt and it's not an emergency," said Darren Bush, one of the firefighters who got to do the honors. "It's fun to break things when you don't have to put it back together."

The Fire District 6 crew was dispatched to help the Clark-Vancouver Regional Drug Task Force crack a safe seized during a July 24 drug raid.

Task force detectives wanted to know if the safe contained evidence of drug trafficking. So firefighters brought out a Halligan tool -- a double-ended, metal, multi-purpose, forcible-entry tool used by public-safety agencies.

But after David Fisher and Bush pried open the safe door, detectives found personal documents inside instead of drugs.

Halligan tools are a staple of firefighting. They are used to enter a house where smoke is coming out, and when someone inside can't get to the door. They're also used to break open vehicle doors.

"The Halligan is probably one of our most-used tools because it's so versatile," Clark County Fire & Rescue Capt. David Greenwood said.

After working at the fire agency for 19 years, Greenwood said any call that isn't a medical emergency -- which represents about 80 percent of their call logs -- gives firefighters a break from the routine. It might be a water rescue, a trapped person or a request from a police agency.

"All of our exciting calls are usually the out-of-the-ordinary calls -- anything that we don't get very often," he said. "And you still get to help and get to fix things."


Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.