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The Kelly tool, a missing link

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  • The Kelly tool, a missing link

    On the chance there are enough still here to discuss something more meaningful than dryer lint.....





    Anyone who has any knowledge of the history of firefighting tools, knows the Halligan tool was invented by Hugh Halligan of the FDNY. They may also know it was inspired by a burglars tool found at a bank in the 1920s that became the claw tool. They may even be aware that there was a Kelly tool that came between, a sort of a Halligan tool minus the spike.



    So lets talk about the Kelly tool.


    I have seen its invention credited to John Kelly of FDNY truck 163, but no details of his career, time frame or details of the tools creation / adoption by the FDNY and others. No mention if like Halligan, Kelly developed the tool and had it manufactured himself, if it was given to the FDNY who made them, or if the design was just shared around the stations and made in FD shops or local blacksmiths. I can find no patent info on the Kelly tool so maybe it wasn't patented under his name.



    I have a dimensional drawing of the Kelly Tool from a 1st edition, 1939 printing of the Fire Chief's Handbook, first printing of that book was 1932.
    At that time the Kelly tool took the form of a 6 1/2" x 2-3" wide chisel at the bottom of the shaft where the fork would be on a Halligan. A lip or ring sticks out from the base of the chisel where it meets the shaft. I've seen it said that this ring was to prevent the chisel being driven in too far, but I suspect it was probably more useful as a pivot for prying. I've seen other prying tools include a similar bump for that purpose.

    At the top of the shaft was a 6" x 3" adze head with a striking face on the back side of the adze, the shaft is 1 1/4" diameter, 14 1/2" long. The overall length is given as "around 25" long" which makes it a fair bit shorter than the modern Halligan tool. It's weight is given at around 12 lbs making it heavier than a Halligan. There is a photo of a Kelly tool floating around the internet that fits this drawing very closely.

    The drawing in the Fire Chief's handbook is quite a bit different than the modern Kelly tool when it is even seen. Those offering the tool today, basically just remove the spike from a Halligan and call it a Kelly tool. Another interesting (maybe) difference is that the chisel and adze face the same way, or put another way the adze faces the flat of the chisel. The Halligan and most of its modern clones (and modern Kelly tools) the adze faces the side of the fork, not the face. I'm not sure there is a particular benefit to either placement.


    I found one source that suggests the term "the irons" originated from the pairing of the Kelly tool with the claw tool. These tools would have complemented each other the hook or spike of the claw tool doing the job of the spike on the Halligan (which the Kelly tool lacks), and with the Kelly tool being almost a foot shorter the claw tool would have provided considerably more leverage for prying. With its hammer like striking face the Kelly tool would have been useful for driving the fork of the claw tool. The Kelly tool would be more useful for forcing standard doors, particularly in confined areas and is far better suited for being driven than the claw tool with its round head. It seems like a flat head axe would still be desirable for driving the adze or chisel of the Kelly tool into a door frame, so that striking face on the Kelly tool may be more of a backup or just general bashing tool.


    With its inclusion in the Fire Chief's Handbook it was definitely in use by 1939, and likely in service before 1932. That would place its invention in the late 1920s or very early 1930s. It is highly unlikely, no matter how interesting that a handmade tool only available in small numbers would have been included in a book meant for national circulation. The publisher of the Fire Chief's handbook, Fire Engineering was located in New York City, so it is possible that an FDNY only tool was included, but seems more likely that it was also in use by other large fire departments at the time of publication.


    The book Tools of the Trade, mentions several related tools such as the San Francisco bar, Chicago Patrol bar and West Coast tool all believed to have been derived from the Kelly tool.
    The Chicago Patrol bar resembles the Kelly tool but has a more pronounced striking face and a fork in place of the chisel. There is an undated photo of a Chicago Patrol bar beside a 1924 Chicago Fire Patrol salvage wagon in the book History of the Chicago Fire Insurance Patrol 1871-1959. The FDNY and Chicago guys can fight over which tool came first.

    Several other sources from the 40s and and early 50s show what is clearly a Kelly tool, but refer to it simply as a "lock breaker" tool. Maybe the Kelly tool developed alongside similar tools, but has gained more attention due to its connection with the FDNY. Even the first reference I cited, the Fire Chief's Hand Book, lists the Kelly tool as an example of a class of tools it calls "Jimmys", the Buster Bar and Callahan Door Opener (very different prying tools) are also mentioned in this section.



    The Halligan tool was patented in 1948, I have an Ohio state fire training manual published in 1953 which makes no mention of the Halligan tool. It seems likely that if a state fire training manual didn't include the Halligan tool in the forcible entry tools section, that it was still probably a locals only tool at that time. Tools don't come on the market and spread overnight, particularly in the pre-internet days. The Halligan is mentioned in an Oregon State Fire Training manual I have from 1958 and is included along with the Kelly tool in the 1960 second edition of the Fire Chief's handbook.

    Assuming the Halligan didn't really get out there to most of the fire service until the mid to late 1950s that would make the Kelly tool and its variants one of the primary fire service forcible entry tools for a period of at least 20-30 years. Seems like the tool and its inventor(s) deserves a bit more respect.


    So hit me what can you guys add. I know some of you have far more years in than I do, maybe even a few who bought Halligans direct from Chief Halligan himself. I know there are a few current and past from the FDNY. Don't know if we still have representation from Chicago to defend the honor of the Patrol bar.


    If your department has a Kelly like tool with a local history feel free to mention that too.
    Last edited by Here and there; 01-22-2018, 07:46 PM.

  • #2
    I don't know why it changed my apostrophes to question marks. When I go into edit mode they are correct.

    Never mind was able to fix it, don't know why it was doing that.
    Last edited by Here and there; 01-22-2018, 07:47 PM.

    Comment


    • #3
      my take is it was kind of leapfrogged over - the old heavy claw tools couldn't hardly be broken or worn out -so a lot of department held on to them for decades and decades -by the time they were in line to be replaced , the new and improved halligan was catching on. Just wild speculation
      ?

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      • #4
        No joke on the claw tool. I've run across a few during my career, they were probably hold overs from that first batch made in the 1920s.

        Comment


        • #5

          For those who haven't actually seen one.
          Opinions my own. Standard disclaimers apply.

          Everyone goes home. Safety begins with you.

          Comment


          • #6
            Yep, that is the new style. The original would have had a chisel where the fork is. It is kind of funny, but what is being sold as a Kelly tool today looks more like the Chicago Patrol Bar. The originals of both tools would have been welded instead of cast and pinned.

            Comment


            • #7
              Click image for larger version  Name:	halligan-1-2.jpg Views:	1 Size:	96.4 KB ID:	2085846
              Here's the original Kelly Tool.

              Fire Hooks Unlimited makes a "Kelly Tool" which is essentially a Pro-Bar Halligan with no spike and the adz rotated 90 degrees like the one tree posted.
              Last edited by MikeG344; 01-23-2018, 06:35 PM.
              Two departments, twice the fun...

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Here and there View Post
                Yep, that is the new style. The original would have had a chisel where the fork is. It is kind of funny, but what is being sold as a Kelly tool today looks more like the Chicago Patrol Bar. The originals of both tools would have been welded instead of cast and pinned.
                One of the things that Halligan wanted for his new tool was no welds. Solid forged steel only for better strength.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by captnjak View Post

                  One of the things that Halligan wanted for his new tool was no welds. Solid forged steel only for better strength.
                  We had a consultant look through our department - one of the things they suggested was getting rid of the pinned Halligans and replacing them with forged versions, which we did. I carry one of the old ones in my truck, where it's not likely to get into much trouble, but could come in handy someday.

                  As for the image, I just grabbed one that came up when I did a search for the tool.
                  Opinions my own. Standard disclaimers apply.

                  Everyone goes home. Safety begins with you.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    The worst thing about those Ziamatic or pinned bars is the fork is nearly useless. Way to fat to fast... In the end the pieced bars aren't any cheaper, so why not go with the ones that were designed/modified by real users?

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      I have an old claw tool on my Mack CF. Period correct for the age of my engine. They are heavy beasts and tough as can be. I won't say they should be used in place of the halligan, but I'm not ready to relegate them to the scrap heap either. Bring it along with the Halligan to those tough commercial doors for more prying power. Sure another halligan might be better but if the budget is tight and you already have the claw tool why not use it?
                      Crazy, but that's how it goes
                      Millions of people living as foes
                      Maybe it's not too late
                      To learn how to love, and forget how to hate

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Anyone remember the old Hux Bars?? They didn't last too long because the five sided hydrant wrench hole was the weak spot and they'd break right there.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by johnsb View Post
                          Anyone remember the old Hux Bars?? They didn't last too long because the five sided hydrant wrench hole was the weak spot and they'd break right there.
                          My career FD had them. Everyone of them had been repair welded.
                          Crazy, but that's how it goes
                          Millions of people living as foes
                          Maybe it's not too late
                          To learn how to love, and forget how to hate

                          Comment

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