The Secret Message Stamped on the Firefighter Halligan Tool

A screen shot from Adam Savage’s excellent video: The Incredible Origin of the Firefighter’s Halligan Bar

God Running is a place for anyone who wants to (or even anyone who wants to want to) love Jesus more deeply, follow Jesus more closely, and love people the way Jesus wants us to.

(We’re taking a break from our journey through the book of Acts. Stay tuned, we’ll be back on that track soon.)

A few weeks ago, my son Gabriel sent me this Adam Savage video, where he tells the story about the Halligan tool. If you’ve been around God Running for awhile you probably already know I have a firefighter background. I’ve used a Halligan tool a time or two. So I found the video Gabriel sent me to be interesting.

When we’re fighting fire or trying to extricate someone out of a car wreck, we don’t have much time, so, firefighters have devised tools and techniques for entering houses, commercial buildings, and vehicles in as short a time as possible. Some of the firefighters in the forcible entry videos I watched while researching for this blog post were able to use a Halligan tool to defeat a steel door in about 90 seconds or less. That’s pretty impressive.

A variety of prying tools were used back in the day but none of them had the versatility we want on an emergency scene. As I already mentioned, we typically don’t have much time so it’s not efficient to run back and forth from the scene to the truck for another tool.

So eventually this guy Hugh Halligan came along. Halligan was a man who worked his way up through the New York City Fire Department to the rank of Deputy Chief. He recognized the need for a tool that was more versatile than what was available at the time and after much experimentation and, trial and error, he came up with the Halligan tool.

A Halligan tool from Engine 26, recovered from the World Trade Center after the September 11, 2001 attack.

When he first put it on the market, his own fire department NYFD didn’t purchase any because they wanted to avoid the appearance of corruption but it’s said that some of the firefighters of NYFD appreciated the tool so much that they bought them with their own money. Boston Fire Department was the first large fire department to include them in their apparatus inventory and today it would be difficult to find a fire engine that doesn’t carry a Halligan tool. They’re usually strapped to a fire axe and the combined tools are called “the irons.” I’ve heard the radio transmission, “Bring the irons!” many times on the fireground.

With a Halligan you can defeat a steel door, a wooden door, a window, a car window, make a purchase point for the “jaws of life,” and perform any number of other useful operations on an emergency scene. I love that tool for it’s usefulness, but one of the other reasons I appreciate the Halligan is the cryptic message Hugh Halligan had stamped on each of his Halligan tools:


Which stands for

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.

Which is Latin. And it means,

“For the greater glory of God.”

I just thought that was cool.


Adam Savage, The Incredible Origin of the Firefighter’s Halligan Bar, video, 11/4/2022

Clay Magee, The Ins and Outs of the Halligan, Fire Engineering, 10/30/2017

Image of the Halligan tool by cisc1970 — Creative Commons

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