Forcible Entry: Opening case-hardened locks
By Andrew Brassard
Cheap, case-hardened padlocks are found everywhere today. The most common locations for these locks are on roll-down security gates, scissor gates, chained fences and on slide bolts at the rear of commercial buildings. These locks have been made to look like the American 700 series locks, high-security locks that are very popular because they look substantial and appear difficult to break open
By Andrew Brassard
Cheap, case-hardened padlocks are found everywhere today. The most common locations for these locks are on roll-down security gates, scissor gates, chained fences and on slide bolts at the rear of commercial buildings.
These locks have been made to look like the American 700 series locks, high-security locks that are very popular because they look substantial and appear difficult to break open (photo 1, below). To an unprepared firefighter, these types of locks can hold up quite well to traditional forcible-entry methods. These locks have a hardened shackle that can withstand even the largest pair of bolt cutters. Also, these locks are made with heel and toe construction, so driving the body of the lock off the shackle with the irons can be difficult but entry can usually be forced in a matter of seconds with just a screwdriver. There are four telltale signs that you are dealing with a case-hardened padlock:
• These padlocks have a chrome finish whereas the American 700 series locks have a brushed satin finish;
• The word “hardened” will be stamped somewhere on the body of the lock, usually on the back;
• The manufacturer name on the locks is usually Camel, Guard Dawg, Guard, Matrix, Can Pro or Lion;
• The words Made in Taiwan or Made in China are stamped on the lock body or by the key way.
Once you have established that you are dealing with a cheap, case-hardened padlock you will need to get a good-quality slot screwdriver. If you try to use a cheap screwdriver you may break it while attempting to force entry. This can lead to serious injuries so, as always, be sure that you are wearing all appropriate personal protective equipment.
The thing that makes this type of lock susceptible to a quick forcible entry is the cheap cylinder guard on the bottom of the lock (photo 2). This cylinder guard is easily removable so the lock owner can replace the cylinder in the lock if the key is lost. Firefighters forcing entry are going to manipulate the cylinder guard to gain entry. Simply place the end of the screwdriver under the cylinder guard (photo 3).
Once the screwdriver is in place, pry the guard out of the lock (photo 4). You will be amazed at how easy it is to remove the cylinder guard. After the cylinder guard has been pried, give the lock body a light tap with the screwdriver and the cylinder will fall out (photo 5). Once the cylinder is out you will see the brass, pie-shaped locking mechanism inside the locking body. Use the screwdriver that was used to pry the guard out to turn the locking mechanism 180 degrees, opening the lock. Be aware that this method does not work on all case-hardened padlocks but is an excellent trick to keep in your back pocket and will be a huge time saver when the situation presents itself on the fire ground.
Andrew Brassard is a career firefighter in Milton, Ont. He also is an instructor with DART Rescue Inc. and Conestoga Pre-service program. In 2007, he was one of two Milton firefighters awarded the Ontario Medal for Firefighter Bravery and the MSA Fireslayer of the Year Award for heroism. Brassard’s company, Phoenix Fire Ground Training, specializes in forcible entry training.
Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 416-557-4366.