The MegaMover®

By Raul A. Angulo

One year I had the privilege of moderating Brennan and Bruno “Unplugged” at the Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC).

I remember someone from the audience at an FDIC Big Room Session asked the late, great Tom Brennan, former editor in chief of Fire Engineering, about search and rescue techniques-specifically referring to which lifting technique he preferred when carrying a victim out of a building. Brennan looked at Chief (Ret.) Alan Brunacini, Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department, with that “What do you think” look and said something like, ” I don’t know, I think in the heat of the battle you just grab them and go and hope whatever you’re holding onto (skin, clothes, or an arm) doesn’t come off!” It’s a graphic word picture, but the tongue-in-cheek comment was based on the reality of this job.

The MegaMover measures 40 by 80 inches and is made from
nonwoven, latex-free nylon. This provides a fluid barrier for
protection. Heavy duty reinforced nylon straps are set in a grid to
provide strength and support for the patient. Fourteen handles
evenly spaced are part of the grid system to provide a working
strength of 1,000 pounds with a maximum breaking strength of
1,500 pounds, yet the entire unit only weighs one pound. (Photos
by author.)

When you think about it, whether we’re talking about firefighting, technical rescues, motor vehicle accidents, or emergency medical services (EMS), a lot of our job involves moving a person from point A to point B-from a hazardous area to an area of safety. Since the traditional fireman’s carry, tools and techniques have been developed to make this task easier. As emergency medicine evolved, a whole new emphasis was placed on spinal stabilization during extrication procedures, which led to the development of specialized spinal stabilizing devices. But tools and ideas don’t have to be complicated to work. One case in point is the MegaMover®.

Enhancing an Old Idea

The MegaMover is based on the old blanket drag rescue technique. Then someone thought, “You know what this blanket needs? Handles!” After a few blankets ripped and patients dropped, someone else thought, “You know, this blanket needs to be made of something stronger than cotton.” And, so it went. Although firefighters were still using large, heavy canvas tarps for this evolution, the idea was seized and perfected by Graham Medical, a subsidiary of the Little Rapids Corporation in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

The MegaMover is a portable patient transport unit used to transport, transfer, or rescue patients from areas inaccessible to stretchers and for transferring a patient from a gurney to a bed. It could be considered a lightweight tarp with handles. This 40- x 80-inch nonwoven, latex-free, nylon-constructed tarp provides a fluid barrier to protect personnel, equipment, chairs, and mattresses from blood and other bodily fluids. Additional heavy duty reinforced nylon straps are laid out in a vertical and horizontal grid, which gives it the strength to withstand 1,000 pounds. The actual weight capacity is 1,500 pounds, which gives the MegaMover an almost 2:1 safety factor, yet this compact unit weighs only one pound. The support grid incorporates 14 reinforced nylon handles, which are evenly spaced around the tarp.

There are various models of the MegaMover. In the Seattle (WA) Fire Department (SFD), we use the disposable basic 1500 model, named for the weight capacity of 1,500 pounds. The MegaMoverPlus has built-in pockets to accommodate standard backboards for spinal and neck injury transports, and the newest model is the MegaMover with PowerGrips™. The PowerGrips model pads the nylon handles with soft thick rubber for added comfort and durability. Depending on the model, they are packaged in eight to 10 units per case.

Even though the MegaMover is an EMS patient transport unit, it
can also be used to rescue a down firefighter during RIT
operations. With a breaking strength of 1,500 pounds, it can
easily handle the weight of a soaking wet, gargantuan firefighter
with all his gear on.

The SFD has been using the MegaMover for about six years. Because these units are compact and lightweight, they have become the tool of choice in moving patients up and down stairs. Obviously if they need spinal immobilization, other precautions are taken. The stair chairs are only carried on the ambulances and medic units, so we have to wait for their arrival if we decide to use a chair. To expedite patient transport, we’ll often opt for the MegaMover. It’s fast, safe, and comfortable for the patient. Stretchers and gurneys can be dangerous when trying to get a bariatric patient up or down stairs. Since the MegaMover wraps around the patient, it’s easier to get more hands around the unit to help out when moving an obese patient to a level area for transfer to the gurney. We often get the elderly patients who have fallen in the bathroom, or other areas of the house, and simply need assistance back into bed-a good application for the MegaMover. In fact, it is so lightweight and compact when folded, we often bring it in with the EMS equipment whether we need it or not so we don’t have to make an extra trip back to the apparatus.

A minimum of four firefighters is recommended to evenly
distribute the weight of the patient. For a child, you can use two
crew members. For bariatric patients, call for more help. Protect
your back. Use proper lifting techniques. Lift with your leg

Rapid Intervention Teams

The SFD’s Fire Station 8 houses Engine Company 8 and Ladder Company 6. We are one of three double houses designated as rapid intervention groups (RIGs). We are dispatched to confirmed fires at the request of the incident commander or at the discretion of the fire dispatcher. We absorb the initial rapid intervention team (RIT), which is usually the fifth listed engine on a full response. That makes the RIG strength two engines and one truck-a team of 12 firefighters. Additional units can be assigned to the RIG in a real Mayday situation. Part of our ongoing RIG training is reviewing Mayday and RIT case studies from around the country. It’s rare to capture video of an actual RIT rescue, but such was the case when Engine 28 Captain Gary Morgan, from the Los Angeles County (CA) Fire Department, was rescued during a commercial structure fire on October 29, 2000.

There are 14 handles evenly spaced around the MegaMover. In theory you could have seven to 14 crew members helping out. In reality, especially during a RIT operation, you’ll be lucky to get six firefighters. There just is not enough room in tight quarters for more than six crew members. The handles are used to reposition your grip in tight spaces.

As RIT team firefighters were bringing Morgan out of the building, everyone was holding onto him wherever they could, even though he was severely burned. They were running to the waiting paramedic unit while holding onto his pants, coats, arms, and legs. It was just like Tom Brennan described: In the heat of the battle, you just grab them and go. While watching the video, one of my members made the comment that Captain Morgan’s torso and posterior side were nearly dragging on the pavement because he was only supported by his extremities. He suggested that a MegaMover would have been ideal for this incident and should be considered for all RIG operations.

In the above scenario, consider the following: The firefighter has severe second-and third-degree burns, and his bunker gear is soaking wet from fire streams, so the firefighter is extremely heavy. Carrying him from the extremities would be extremely painful and cause additional trauma to the body. Firefighters who have carried people like this know it is not a smooth operation. Everyone is out of step and bumping into the patient. Again, this firefighter has already endured unspeakable trauma, and now he’s being kneed by no less than six very excited firefighters.

Because the MegaMover is a flexible tarp and not a rigid
backboard, it’s easy to make corners inside structures or in tight
stairwell landings.

A MegaMover would support the entire weight of a severely burned and injured firefighter. There would be no tension exerted on the extremities. The MegaMover would envelop the firefighter and act as a temporary splint, limiting movement of the body while it is being removed from the IDLH environment. It can be quickly deployed and applied without buckling or restraints, and with 14 handles, that’s 14 firefighters who can help scoop and run with minimal movement to the patient.

It made sense to us, so we started bringing in the MegaMover with the RIG entry team. The initial RIG entry team’s equipment consists of two thermal imaging cameras, a rescue air kit (RAK), and a lead line. The truck crew brings pickhead axes, the irons, battle lanterns and glow sticks, a hoseline, and the MegaMover. Additional equipment is sent in by support crews if requested by the interior RIG.

Even though it is a tight fit for the RIT bringing the injured
firefighter up a stairwell, there is no pressure on the injured
firefighter. He is totally supported by the MegaMover.

Proven Effectiveness

We recently finished Mayday/RIG operational readiness, multicompany drills with the entire fire department at the training tower. Although these were not live fire drills, they were real-time Mayday scenarios with actual firefighters and weighted rescue mannequins that needed to be carried out of a smoke-filled tower by the RIG teams. We decided to put the MegaMover to the test. In each scenario-there were numerous scenarios during the period of departmentwide training-we were able to place the weighted rescue mannequin into the MegaMover and successfully carry the dummy down numerous flights of stairs and out of the tower. This was a fast evolution. The MegaMover worked every time. Even with all the dragging inside the tower, the material was durable enough that we never put a hole in it, and it never ripped. I realize there are other rescue appliances we may have to use for complicated extrications, but for scoop and run scenarios, we’re convinced this is the way to go. We are now strapping the MegaMover on to the RAK.

In a real life Mayday for a down firefighter, you only need the MegaMover to make it through one incident. Like in rescue rope, after a MegaMover is used in an actual rescue, replace it with a new one. It costs $25.00, which is nothing for a piece of equipment that can be instrumental in rescuing one of our own.

The injured firefighter is enveloped and
protected inside the MegaMover. Because the
unit wraps around the patient, the MegaMover
acts like a temporary splint limiting the movement
of the body.

You’re probably thinking, why don’t they make a MegaMover out of fire-resistive material for fire rescues? Well, they may. They had a rugged version designed for the military to be used in combat rescues, but the devices were cost-prohibitive and the concept didn’t take off. Making MegaMovers out of Nomex or other fire-resistant material might make them cost-prohibitive for fire departments. The beauty is discovering that something designed for EMS can also be used for firefighting operations. It can be used for civilian search and rescue as well as firefighter rescues during a RIT operation. The MegaMover doesn’t need to be made out of fire-resistive material to work. It works better than skin, pajamas, clothing, and bunker gear. That’s what counts.

In the L.A. County incident, the first thing the captain needed was air. In a Seattle incident where a wall collapsed onto a lieutenant, he couldn’t breathe. The weight of the wall was crushing him to death. He needed the wall lifted and he needed air. Remember that air is going to be the first thing a disoriented or down firefighter needs. After that, it’s going to be a scoop and run operation. Tom Brennan is right: In the heat of the battle, you’re just going to grab them and go. If you practice using the MegaMover during your RIT drills, you’ll use it for the real deal. It’s fast and easy to deploy. In the long run, it will be easier for your RIT team to manage and carry out an injured firefighter, and it will also be better for the injured firefighter. After all, hasn’t he been through enough?

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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