Fat Ivan

By Raul A. Angulo

I can already hear Seattle (WA) Fire Department Captain Steve Bernocco saying, “Oh no! Not another article on door chocks!” Yes, another article on door chocks! I did have to ask myself why there is always a new tool coming out to wedge a door. The answer is because it is still a problem. Standard wooden wedges are cut in a variety of widths and lengths. Inevitably one is too short, too thin, or too fat. Because the wood breaks down and finally cracks, companies started making hard rubber wedges. They’re good for wedging sprinkler heads but they’re not very good for door wedges. Heavy commercial doors can still compress them. I find I often have to double up on rubber wedges to get the door opened to where I need it. Even then, they slip. I started using the “Jerome” clamp (Tool Tech, May 2012), which is an inexpensive, heavy duty, plastic hand-gripped clamp, but the door still has some play in it. On all residential and most commercial doors you’ll run into, it works great. It is lightweight and doesn’t slip, but the spring can still break with heavy tensioned, self-closing doors.

Fat Ivan
(1) The Fat Ivan is a door chock design invented by a Cincinnati firefighter. It expands on the concept of the angle iron and hook used to chock a door open. The plastic panels are made from nylon-impregnated engineered plastic, making it extremely strong and durable. It is 100 percent resistant to corrosion and won’t rust in your pocket. (Photos by author unless otherwise noted.)

Leave it to firefighters to come up with a new design. A firefighter ingeniously figured out that if a hook was welded on to the spine of a piece of angle iron, you can simply drop the hook over a hinge on the inside jamb of the door and it will securely hold the door open. I have seen a few of them around. The problem with these self-made contraptions is that the angle iron is no more than 90 degrees, which, depending on the door, only holds it open about ½ to ¾ of the way (approximately 45 to 60 degrees). The homemade versions can be heavy to carry in your pocket, and unless the edges are smoothed out, they will definitely rub a hole in your bunker coat pocket over time. If the edges don’t make a hole, the hook will. This can be an expensive and inconvenient repair, not to mention that you could also lose some valuable pocket tools. It will also rust after repeated exposure to moisture. The real downside is when you accidentally fall and land on the angle iron while it is in your pocket. It is not collapsible and has hard, defined edges. In other words, because it’s bulky, it’s going to hurt. Other than that, it is a great tool.

fat ivan in the closed position
(2) In the closed position, the hook is protected from accidentally poking the firefighter. The hook is a case-hardened, zinc-plated steel rod. The panels butterfly open to 130 degrees, which is better than a 90-degree angle iron and hook. The 130-degree design will securely hold the door open at 80 degrees or in the fully opened position without slipping.

A New Solution

Lieutenant Nick Caliguri, a 22-year veteran of the Cincinnati (OH) Fire Department assigned to Truck 32, was a fan of the angle iron door chock but after a few bunker coat pocket repairs and falling hard on his metal door chock, he thought there had to be a better way to design it.

He invented the Fat Ivan. By expanding on the hook and angle iron design and eliminating the problems, he made a good tool into an excellent one. The Fat Ivan is a fold-up and expanding door chock. The hook, which is a case-hardened, zinc-plated rod, is embedded inside the casing of the tool so it will not damage the pockets or liners of your bunker gear. The casing acts as a scabbard for the hook so there’s no metal exposed that can accidentally poke you during a fall. The body is made of nylon-impregnated engineered plastic, making it extremely strong and tremendously durable. The plastic is 100 percent corrosion resistant and will not rust. The edges are curved, so there are no sharp edges like angle iron.

fat ivan can be carried in pocket
(3) A Fat Ivan is small and light enough to carry in your pocket. Because the panels are made of smooth engineered plastic-there are no sharp edges like angle iron. The hook is also sheathed by the panels for extra protection.

The casing is hinged around the hook, so to chock a door with a Fat Ivan, simply open the casing, expose the hook, and hook it over the door hinge. The panels of the casing open to 130 degrees, making it better than a piece of angle iron. This props the door open at approximately 80 degrees or in the fully opened position. The Fat Ivan doesn’t slip; it holds the door firmly with little or no play and doesn’t damage the door or the jamb. Just open it, and hook it.

Three Options

I like to see firefighters invent things. That tells me someone really loves his job and wants to make it easier for other firefighters to do theirs. I first saw the Fat Ivan at FDIC. Caliguri had a booth and was demonstrating on his door prop how easy it was to chock a door using the Fat Ivan. What was really interesting is that one of the panels is magnetized. If for some reason you can’t use the hook, you can set the magnetized panel against the metal flange of the hinge and use a Fat Ivan as a block chock. You can also use it on the latch side of the door jamb, which usually has metal hardware for the strike plates. This gives you the three options for chocking a door using a single tool.

Many firefighters wear a wedge in their helmet band.
(4) Many firefighters wear a wedge in their helmet band. A Fat Ivan is light and compact enough to fit on the helmet but it gives you more options than a single wooden wedge. (Photo by Nick Caliguri.)

First, there are times when you want a door in the fully opened position to maximize the door space. Examples include emergency egress of high-occupancy venues like stadiums, theaters, and high-rise buildings; moving firefighters and equipment through clear hallways; and creating an entry point for positive-pressure ventilation flow path. In these instances, a Fat Ivan can be used as originally designed-place the hook over the hinge, and the 130-degree butterflied panels will securely hold the door in the 80-degree fully opened position.

Second, there may be times you cannot or choose not to hook the Fat Ivan onto a door hinge. For example, you may want to limit the air path flow during horizontal ventilation, whether you’re using a positive-pressure ventilation (PPV) blower or dealing with strong winds. On an emergency medical service response, you may want to leave a locked door open for incoming paramedics so it is easily identifiable as the correct door to enter an occupancy. Using the magnetized side of the casing allows the Fat Ivan to be used as a block chock. By placing the chock on the hinge flange or a metal door jamb on the hinge side, the Fat Ivan will stop the door at approximately 45 degrees, or halfway open.

Fat Ivan
(5, 6) Used as designed, open the Fat Ivan, expose the hook, and hang it over the door hinge. Fat Ivan opens to 130 degrees, giving you maximum door space. The chock is secured and will not slip off until you remove it. It holds the door firmly without damaging the door or the jamb.

Another example is when a Fat Ivan cannot be hooked to the door. The Fat Ivan works on all standard hinges, but there are a few that are specialized. The piano hinge is a single hinge that runs along the entire length of the door, from top to bottom. There is nowhere to set the hook and the top of the door is usually too tall to reach without a ladder. I was anxious to use a Fat Ivan, and the first call out of the chute was a piano hinge! We had a trash chute fire in a high-rise building in downtown Seattle that smoked up numerous floors. Portable PPV fans weren’t doing the trick so we had to bring in the mobile ventilation unit (MVU). The MVU is a truck-mounted giant PPV fan. My crew was assigned to create an air flow path for the MVU. I opened one of the giant seven-foot lobby doors, pulled out the Fat Ivan, and discovered a piano hinge! I closed the Fat Ivan and placed the magnetic panel against the hinge, but that chocked the door halfway open. If you’re going to use the MVU, you need the entire door space opened to pressurize the building. We ended up using giant planters to hold the doors open. In this case, the Fat Ivan didn’t work. But I have been on many calls since then, and it has worked every time.

Fat Ivan
(7, 8) One of the Fat Ivan panels is magnetized because sometimes you cannot hang a Fat Ivan on a door hinge-for example, when encountering a piano-hinged door. In this case, the Fat Ivan can be used as a block chock by attaching it to the metal hinge hardware or the metal jamb on commercial doors. When the magnetized Fat Ivan is used as a block chock on the hinged side of the door, it will hold it at 45 degrees or halfway open.

Third, there are times when you want a locked door closed but accessible. For example, you may need to redirect or control the air path flow for horizontal ventilation. You may be on an EMS call and are awaiting the arrival of the paramedics but are trying to keep out inclement weather, like strong winds, rain, or snow, from entering the occupancy in the meantime. You may have a secured facility that you need access to but don’t want to “visually announce” that the door is jarred open. By placing the magnetized panel of the Fat Ivan against the latch side of the door jamb, the door can remain closed but unlatched.

When a Fat Ivan is hooked, it’s secure. It won’t come out unless you remove it. Anytime you’re using the magnetized panel as a block chock, it will remain in place as long as it isn’t bumped by gargantuan firefighters with self-contained breathing apparatus or equipment. To prevent this from happening, avoid placing a Fat Ivan on the center hinge.

Fat Ivan
(9) On residential occupancies, the Fat Ivan can also be magnetically attached to the striking plate, latch side of a door. On metal commercial door jambs, it can be placed anywhere on the latching side of the jamb. This keeps the door in the closed position but still accessible because the lock cannot latch.

Beyond Fire

I also found that a Fat Ivan can be used to create a gap for fingers when placing a patient on a backboard. Some backboards have tracks or bowed bottoms so it is easy to grab the handles; however, there are many backboards still in use that are flat boards. Once they are weighted with a patient, it is hard to get your fingers under the board for lifting. Placing one or two Fat Ivans under the head position of the backboard eliminates this problem.

The Fat Ivan has gained popularity beyond the fire service. Now the cops have discovered it. The business community has started using it by issuing Fat Ivans to floor (fire) wardens and security personnel who are charged with occupancy evacuations. Moving companies and the hotel industry discovered it, and the marketing of this tool has reached five continents. And, this idea all started with a firefighter from Cincinnati who got tired of getting prodded with the angle iron and hook he was carrying in his pocket!

Fat Ivan
(10) A Fat Ivan can keep a security door from latching. The door is closed but still accessible. You would want this door closed if you were trying to pressurize other parts of the building with PPV. You may also be trying to redirect or prevent smoke from entering a clean space or hallway. It also doesn’t visually announce that a security door is jarred.

The Fat Ivan is compact and lightweight. It weighs five ounces and measures two inches by four inches by one inch, making it easy to store in your pocket or stuff into a helmet band. The panels come in red, black, white, yellow, and pink. The magnetized panel is identified by reflective tape carrying the logo.

Firefighters like pocket tools and gadgets; it’s our nature. Anything that doesn’t require fire department budget approval, has practical value, and is inexpensive will always catch the eye of a firefighter. Plus, if you itemize on your federal tax return using a 1040, work tools like a Fat Ivan are tax deductible under miscellaneous deductions.

Fat Ivan
(11) The Fat Ivan can be used in a variety of ways to create a space. Here, two Fat Ivans are used at the head of a backboard to create a space for fingers. You can actually use just one. Some backboards are flat; unless you put a wedge underneath this type of backboard, once it is weighted with a patient, it is hard to lift with your fingertips.

RAUL A. ANGULO, a veteran of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department and captain of Ladder Company 6, has more than 30 years in the fire service. He is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. He lectures on fire service leadership, company officer development, and fireground strategy and accountability throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

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