My previous two columns focused on hydraulic rescue tool pressures and new hydraulic rescue tool blades. Manufacturers are faced with the challenge of making rescue tools that can do the job on today's tough new vehicles, which are made with ultra high strength steel (UHSS) and a number of new "space-age" processes.
Any rescue tool three years old or older cannot handle most of - and certainly not all of - today's cars and trucks. As a result, some rescue tool manufacturers and automakers are suggesting such things as work-arounds to accomplish new vehicle technology (NVT) extrications and patient extractions.
Simply stated, a work-around is what you have to do when your rescue tools can't do the job on new (or older) vehicles. Although work-arounds most certainly need to be a part of our extrication arsenal, they cannot be relied upon as our Plan A.
The work-arounds that are presently being suggested and taught include such things as "skinning" and "tunneling" techniques to gain access to trapped victims in new vehicles. I have two relatively simple questions related to these work-arounds. First, what is the single most difficult maneuver to effect on today's NVT vehicles? Answer: Dash displacement. Secondly, if a dash displacement is required on an NVT vehicle, what good does tunneling or skinning a vehicle for access do? Answer: It doesn't!
Using these secondary techniques to gain access to your patients is great. However, if a dash displacement is required, all of the exotically-named MacGyver techniques you can use with your reciprocating saws and your state-of-the-art hand tools are not going to help you effect a dash displacement to disentangle your patients' feet and legs that have become one with the pedals and the UHSS-impregnated anti-intrusion bar that runs across the base of the dash.
Tunneling And Skinning
Not taken into account in this scenario are the titanium and magnesium reinforcements that attach the cowl support structures and the aforementioned anti-intrusion beam to the transmission tunnel. Although we have found that the combination of hydraulic and simple hand tools can be used to unbolt and cut away a number of the components on heavy-duty new cars, the time and access required to do so most often makes this process prohibitive.
The rescuer obviously must take into consideration the condition of the vehicle and his or her patients when considering such methods and tactics.
With the addition of UHSS anti-intrusion side impact reinforcements in the doors and similar materials and structures being added to vehicle roofs and associated posts and supports (as part of the new roof crush standards), tunneling and skinning are soon to be added to the ever-growing list of antiquated techniques.
Rescue tool manufacturers seem to be gaining an understanding of the urgency to keep up with the technology of the automakers. To this end, a number of rescue tool makers have figured out the winning combination of cutting/spreading force and tool (pump) speed. Match these with a good blade design, and the tools start working on most of, if not all of the NVT cars of today and tomorrow.
Here's the twist. Those manufacturers who have figured out the winning combination described above are now faced with a new challenge. Some tools that are strong enough and fast enough to do the job on the UHSS material appear to be prone to violently (very violently) twisting out of the hands of the rescuer.
As the tool works to fracture parts made with Boron and Martensitic materials, the cutters have difficulty finding purchase points and can snap twist out of the hands and arms of the user in less than the blink of an eye. Needless to say, the potential for broken arms and wrists, along with the potential for upper extremity crushing and pinching is huge. Imagine trying to force a pair of beak-shaped scissors to cut a chain saw file.
Now that we've defined the problem, is there an answer? It appears so. One tool manufacturer has concluded the answer may be to use a hardened serrated-edge cutter blade that can gain purchase by piercing the material to be cut or fractured. Another manufacturer believes that the answer to this problem lies in microprocessor regulation of the speed and the forces created by the pump and the cutter/spreader.
For the sake of those of us who use these tools on a regular basis, we all hope that the tool makers have the upper hand on this matter and have done everything in their power to assure our well being while using these metal-eating and metal-crushing/spreading monsters.
I'm told that we will be able to preview the latest rescue tool technology at the Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC) in Indianapolis this month.
I encourage you to take a first-hand look into what the rescue tool industry has in store for you. And get involved. The manufacturers need and value your input as end users of their products.
Editor's Note: Carl Haddon is the director of Five Star Fire Training LLC, which is sponsored in part by Volvo North America. He serves as assistant chief and fire commissioner for the North Fork Fire Department in Idaho and is a career veteran of more than 25 years in the fire and EMS services in southern California. He has also served since the 1980s as a fire/safety director for numerous racing organizations, including Penske Motorsports, NASCAR, USAC and Mickey Thompson Racing. He is a certified Level 2 fire instructor, an ISFSI member and teaches 5 Star Auto Extrication and NFPA 610 classes across the country.