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What is a Halligan Bar?

By Maggie Worth
Updated May 17, 2024
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A Halligan bar is a metal tool used by fire and law enforcement personnel to effect forcible entry. The multifunction tool allows the user to twist, pry and punch, all with one piece of equipment. It is named after its creator, a former New York City firefighter. The bar has become standard-issue for fire departments around the world.

The original Halligan bar was developed in 1948 by New York City Deputy Fire Chief Hugh Halligan to make entry into burning buildings easier for firefighters. The City of New York, however, was concerned about the possible conflict of interest in buying a tool from a member of its force, so the City of Boston became the first major buyer. The Boston firefighters reported such success that New York firefighters are said to have purchased the tools with their own money until New York City made them standard issue.

A typical Halligan bar consists of a pointed pick, a claw and a wedge attached to the top of a long handle, though variations do exist. Handles typically range between 8 and 54 inches (about 45.7 and 137 centimeters). The tool is usually forged, creating a single-piece construction that can withstand high heat and forceful use. Common metals used to forge these tools include titanium, copper and stainless steel. Many users purchase or design carrying straps to keep the tool out of their way when not in use.

Firefighters find a number of uses for the Halligan bar during the course of duty. It can be used to break locks or latches and to pry open doors and windows. It can also be used to break glass, knock down walls or punch holes to ventilate a room or surface. Firefighters can also use it to assist them in climbing roofs when necessary.

Law enforcement officers who carry a Halligan bar typically use the shortest handle size. In fact, this size bar is sometimes called an "officer's tool." Officers may also use the tool to pry open doors and may additionally use it to effect entry into a vehicle, as it is strong enough to break through most automotive glass.

Though the tool was developed in the United states, it is currently used by fire and police departments around the world. It may be also referred to as a Halligan tool. Some departments, particularly those in Great Britain and Australia, often use the terms 'Hooligan tool' or 'Hooligan bar.'

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