Rescue Company

Rescue Tools Designed for Today’s Response Realities

Issue 9 and Volume 18.

Chris Mc Loone

The realities of today’s fire service staffing issues are not lost on any tool or apparatus manufacturer. As personnel numbers shrink, so have fleets in some cases as many departments have shifted to multipurpose apparatus. Shifting to multipurpose apparatus makes tool mounting more critical than ever because equipment from two rigs is consolidated into one. Organizing it all and making it fit are no easy tasks. Additionally, new vehicle technology has created the need for more powerful tools in some cases, which typically weigh more.

But, beyond apparatus design, equipment manufacturers are tasked with creating equipment that is easily deployable by fewer firefighters at incident scenes. Tools being designed to address reduced staffing include hydraulic rescue tools.

Through the years, hydraulic rescue tool manufacturers have come up with a variety of setups for deploying the tools. One setup is to have the power units mounted on the trucks and the tools connected to reels. When the apparatus would pull up to the rescue scene, the operator would get the generator going, and firefighters would stretch the tools from the truck. Apparatus placement for this setup was key because to get decent power from the tool, the hydraulic line had to be a certain length. Make the line too long, and performance decreases.

Moving to all gas-powered units solves some tool performance problems because departments could spec shorter hydraulic lines. But, atmospheric contaminants like exhaust become an issue for both rescuers and victims.

Some departments have mounted power units and tools on carts. Once on scene, they would essentially have everything they needed to start a rescue on a cart. One person could wheel the cart into position while another firefighter stretched an electric cord for power. The only problem here is getting the carts off the truck easily. You need at least two firefighters. The name of the game these days is to give crews tools they can deploy with a minimum number of firefighters-sometimes only one.

Hydraulic Innovations

First and foremost on the minds of many equipment purchasing committees is how to purchase tools that match the staffing realities of each department. These tools need to be deployable by one firefighter in many cases. It’s important to remember that although your department may field enough firefighters generally for vehicle rescues, it needs to be prepared that sometimes the crew won’t be what is needed when the truck leaves the firehouse.

Holmatro Inc.’s philosophy for many years has been to address staffing requirements with the tools it designs, according to Fran Dunigan Jr., marketing manager, Holmatro, Inc. “Holmatro’s tools have been on the cutting edge of power, while still keeping light weight and portability in mind,” he says. “Plus, CORE Technology™ is still helping make rescue operations faster, easier, and safer.” Dunigan adds that the auto-return CORE™ coupler eliminates dump valves on Holmatro power units and the need to dedicate staffing to that task. “The single-line CORE hoses are up to 60 percent lighter than traditional twin-line hose and are kink- and snag-free,” he states.

The HURST Jaws of Life CombiTool

(1) The HURST Jaws of Life CombiTool SC350E is part of the company’s
eDRAULIC hydraulic-electric line of rescue tools that free rescue workers
of power units and heavy hoses, reducing the number of firefighters and
associated setup time needed with traditional tools. (Photo courtesy of
HURST Jaws of Life.)


Holmatro has also recently introduced a way for customers to turn all of their existing Holmatro rescue tools into battery-operated tools. “With the introduction of our SPU 16 BC battery-powered hydraulic pump, customers need not replace their rescue tools to gain the benefits of a green, clean, quiet, gasoline-free power source,” says Dunigan. “Using a next-generation 36-V Li-ion battery that offers 360 watt hours, the SPU 16 BC offers a run time of approximately 90 minutes during typical extrications.”

Bruce Johnston, director of marketing and product management at HURST Jaws of Life®, says that his company’s eDRAULIC™ line of electric-hydraulic rescue tools are engineered to free rescue workers of power units and heavy hoses, reducing the number of firefighters and associated setup time needed with traditional tools-as well as reducing the actual extrication time. “eDRAULIC rescue tools feature the same impressive forces of standard hydraulic tools in a self-contained platform and provide operators with the freedom to operate in battery mode or plug into a power source for continuous operation. These tools are powerful enough to stand alone as a complete rescue set or be used as a supplement to add portability to any existing rescue tool system,” says Johnston. “The product line includes two cutters, a spreader, a ram, and a combination tool.”

Holmatro Inc.'s SPU 16 BC battery-powered hydraulic pump

(2) Holmatro Inc.’s SPU 16 BC battery-powered hydraulic pump uses a next-
generation 36-V Li-ion battery that offers 360 watt hours for a run time of
approximately 90 minutes during typical extrications. (Photo courtesy of
Holmatro Inc.)


New Vehicle Technology

Automobile manufacturers are constantly evolving the materials they use to build cars. These materials are stronger and harder than anything rescuers have seen before and can ruin tools if you do not improve your cache of rescue equipment. Both Hurst Jaws of Life and Holmatro maintain relationships with auto manufacturers as they develop tools to meet the needs of today’s rescuers and address new vehicle technology (NVT). “HURST Jaws of Life engineers work closely with vehicle manufacturers to develop new tools today that meet new vehicle technology and vehicle crash standards five years out,” says Johnston.

Dunigan adds, “Holmatro has ongoing relationships with auto manufacturers that allow us to test our designs on tomorrow’s vehicles today. Many innovations like our new car technology (NCT) blade geometry design and our patented iBolt were developed through testing conducted on prototype vehicles.” Being able to work at many auto racing venues allows Holmatro insights into ultra-modern vehicle construction before it appears in passenger vehicles, according to Dunigan.

Rick Haynes, president, Champion Rescue Tools, says that his company has kept pace with the trends and high demands for tools that will stand up to new vehicle construction. “As automakers continue to build stronger, lighter, and safer vehicles with the use of exotic and laminated metals, Champion needed to design and build tools that could overcome these new construction obstacles,” says Haynes. “We have developed cutters and spreaders with tremendous power and durability to overcome any new materials that car manufacturers are presenting today.” As an example, Haynes cites the company’s cutter and cutting blades it has designed with very wide openings to allow Champion tools to engage the larger B-posts prevalent in today’s new cars. “This allows a single cut and a quicker removal of the post or roof without evasive positioning of the cutter within the patients’ space.”

Champion Rescue Tools's cutter and spreader head assemblies

(3) Champion Rescue Tools’s cutter and spreader head assemblies can be changed
to go from a full size cutter to a full size spreader by pulling three pins on the tool
while on the scene. (Photo courtesy of Champion Rescue Tools.)


Additionally, Champion’s cutter and spreader head assemblies can be changed to go from a full size cutter to a full size spreader by pulling three pins on the tool while on the scene. Its Beast Tool, a 5,000-psi unit, and the Super Beast Tool, Champion’s 10,500-psi unit, can be purchased as dedicated cutters and spreaders as well as a multitool with swappable cutter and spreader head. The company’s Monster Mini is a lightweight tool (27.5 pounds) that generates 25,000 pounds of spreading force.

Mounting Options

There are three basic components to most hydraulic rescue tool systems: the power unit with pump, the hose, and the tool. Regardless of the setup-whether it’s gas-powered units with hoses; rescue carts with tools, power units, and hoses on them; or tools preconnected to the truck via hydraulic hose reels with power units mounted in the truck-mounting these tools and related equipment is going to take up some space in your compartments.

According to Haynes, most Champion Rescue Tools customers rely on the truck manufacturers and their departments’ engineers to be creative in mounting Champion rescue tools on new apparatus. That said, the company has done what it can to make things easier. “We build remote valves that operate with our electric power units,” he says. “This configuration allows the rescue tools and hose reels to be mounted and operated in front and side compartments with the power unit placed anywhere on the rig.”

Holmatro's Quick Release

(4) Holmatro’s Quick Fix (QF) and Quick Release (QR) (shown) brackets
provide a space-saving, easy mounting system that makes stowing and
removing a power unit easier. (Photo courtesy of Holmatro, Inc.)


Dunigan says there are already a number of innovative and creative tool mount providers that offer solutions for a wide variety of rescue tool manufacturers, including Holmatro. “However, we did identify an opportunity to provide an innovative mounting solution for our power units,” he says. “The Quick Fix (QF) and Quick Release (QR) brackets provide a space-saving, easy mounting system that makes stowing and removing a power unit much easier.” He adds that using an optional eight-degree angle plate, mounting them in higher compartments is now possible.

“eDRAULIC tools are self-contained and do not require power units or hoses,” says Johnston. Because of this, Johnston states that these tools free up space on fire apparatus compared with standard traditional tool systems.

Cost Always a Factor

No matter what the capabilities are and how hydraulic tools will increase your efficiency on the fireground, the almighty dollar always comes into play. Tool manufacturers do keep this in mind and work with departments to assist them with their purchases.

In the case of HURST Jaws of Life, Johnston says that departments can view eDRAULIC tools as supplementing an existing rescue tool system, “allowing them to add new revolutionary technology to their arsenal without the need for replacing their current complete set of extrication equipment all at once.”

a compartment with traditional rescue tools on the left and one with all eDRAULIC tools on the right

(5, 6) Tool mounting has become more and more important as the fire service moves to
multipurpose apparatus, which requires that equipment from two rigs be consolidated into one.
Compartment space is at a premium. Shown here is a compartment with traditional rescue tools on
the left and one with all eDRAULIC tools on the right, revealing how much space can be saved.
(Photos courtesy of HURST Jaws of Life.)


Dunigan cites Holmatro’s manufacturing techniques as one way it works to keep costs manageable. “With inflation and the price of purchased materials continuing to rise, Holmatro is always developing innovative manufacturing techniques and sharing capacity between our two factories in Europe and the United States,” he says. “In doing this, we have been able to absorb these increased costs instead of passing them on as price increases.” Additionally, the company has introduced its Spider Range of hydraulic pumps designed specifically with reliability and low maintenance costs in mind. “Besides the initial purchase price, Holmatro is focused on helping our customers by making the total cost of ownership more affordable,” Dunigan says.

Champion Rescue Tools works on different ways to help volunteer fire departments get their communities involved in raising funds for rescue equipment. “We believe that if we can develop fundraising strategies that focus on prominent residents or successful businesses in the community, we can not only help the local fire and rescue department get the funding they need for all their equipment needs, but we ultimately help the community in times of an emergency,” adds Haynes.

Never Slowing

The need for bigger and more powerful tools to deal with today’s and tomorrow’s vehicle construction is not going to diminish. More than likely it will accelerate, meaning departments will have to augment their tool cache vs. replacing it.

“I think that the rescue tool industry has seen many new challenges in the past five years-old tools not performing on new cars, budgets for new products getting slashed, and new vehicle construction changing annually,” says Haynes. “Together with the above problems, the rescue tool manufacturers have to build stronger, more powerful cutting tools. This means that they will become heavier and their costs will increase. Champion has done everything to manage our costs and overhead in order to keep the end user prices as low as possible.”

“As a privately held company, at the core of Holmatro’s philosophy is a continuous focus on research and development,” says Dunigan. “Holmatro is able to dedicate a significant portion of our turnover to research and development to help ensure we are always on the cutting edge of technology, offering the most innovative and highest quality products.”

And, do not forget that it is not only the power of the tool you should be looking at. “While cutting force and operator technique are very important, cutter blade design, which includes blade geometry and composition, in conjunction with the manufacturing, forging, and heat treating processes, are key factors when determining a tool’s ultimate cutting capability,” says Johnston. “When cutting large-diameter posts on today’s vehicles, maximum cutting energy is required from the tips to the middle of the blades, making them more suitable for cutting the larger diameters and stronger steel being encountered by rescuers today.”

CHRIS Mc LOONE, associate editor of Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment, is a 20-year veteran of the fire service and an assistant chief with Weldon Fire Company (Glenside, PA). He has been a writer and editor for more than 15 years. While with Fire Engineering, he contributed to the May 2006 issue, a Jesse H. Neal Award winner for its coverage of the Hurricane Katrina response and recovery.