Auto Extrication Has Improved Over Time

Many years ago I received training in automobile extrication. It was very basic. We had the standard firefighting tools such as axes and haligan bars and a specific piece of equipment for extrication – a hydraulic tool from Hurst known as the “Jaws of Life.”

It has been so long that I am not even sure if there were other options for the hydraulic tools. I do remember the “Jaws” were very heavy and had spreading capability along with cutting tips.

Training involved a brief orientation in the classroom and then a trip to the local junkyard to practice. Through a good working relationship with the owner, we were able to schedule training in the junkyard. The owner would point us to some very old vehicles with minimal scrap value, and we would proceed to tear them apart. It was tiring, but fun. We were able to access most patient compartments and with enough practice were able to reduce our time.

With this training, we felt comfortable and confident should an accident occur. When a call was received with a report of occupants trapped, it usually meant someone was seriously hurt, and we could expect to have a challenge.

On the scene, someone would access the patient and the process would start. There was no shoring, limited scene security, no incident commander, and minimal safety considerations.

Oh, how things have changed.

Today’s world is so much better. The equipment is greatly improved and more lightweight. The training is also better. This is not because the other trainers did a bad job. Today, training officers have better access to the things needed to train on today’s vehicles.

There is also improvement in patient care regardless of whether the emergency medical service is advanced or basic.

Competent and professional extrication involves the proper equipment, sound training and practice, and appropriate policies and procedures.

Like everything else that is done on the job, resources are needed to match the commitment of the personnel. Properly trained and equipped firefighters will reduce the time needed to free an injured party from entrapment.

That is the bottom line – you need to be as good as possible so that patients are removed quickly and safely. This translates not only into potential lives saved, but shorter hospital stays and less rehabilitation required.

The vehicles on the road today are quite different than the ones we practiced on long ago, or even from vehicles built10 to 15 years ago.

There are more plastic parts, airbags, electronics and special metals that create more challenges for the firefighters. There is a need for better preparation and more variety in tools.

One might ask, how does a department stay current? Training officers and members need to read the journals. They need to find out the latest techniques from those who are recognized as experts.

There needs to be a continual effort to practice and train. The time to experiment with new tools or techniques is not at 3 a.m. out on the interstate with someone’s life hanging in the balance.

Develop relationships with people and businesses that may be able to supply you with newer model “wrecks.” Taking apart a car from the ’70s is much different than a model only that is only one or two years old.

Speed And Control

Extrication is about moving quickly while remaining under control. As with all emergencies, the safety of the responders is of utmost importance.

Command and control is vital. Before any patient assessment can begin, the scene must be secured and the vehicle stabilized. Once this is done, the patients can be accessed and assessed. Treatment can be initiated once it is safe to do so.

As for the extrication, there needs to be a plan. Someone assigned as the extrication officer will develop the best way to either remove the patient or remove the vehicle.

 Clear direction, following proper procedures and competent skills with the appropriate tools will result in successful extrications.

Do you have the tools to do the job? Certainly hydraulic tools are the mainstay of what is necessary. There are many good manufacturers. The right tool for your organization will not necessarily be what is best for your neighbor.

Do your homework to get what will work in your department. You also need to determine what other tools will be needed. This will be determined in part by your procedures, staffing, funding, and desired capabilities.

Need For A Plan

Some of the equipment will be generic – shoring blocks, saws, prying tools, and similar gear.

Others will be specifically designed for extrication – the aforementioned hydraulic tool for example, as well as equipment for bracing/shoring that cannot be accomplished with simple cribbing, air bags, and the like.

There needs to be a plan. You can overstock your “tool box.” Determine the most efficient and effective tools that fit your organization.

You can read the journals, talk to your neighbors, attend conferences and trade shows, and ask the vendors.

Also remember you need compartment space for the equipment. Make sure it fits on the responding apparatus. Great equipment left back at the station is useless. Know what equipment needs to arrive first. For example, if nothing can start until the vehicle is stabilized, that equipment must be on the first arriving vehicle(s).

It’s not possible to overemphasize the need to be trained and competent with the tools that you have. You don’t get many opportunities that require these skills. It can be very embarrassing if you cannot perform during this critical time when a lot of eyes are watching.

Value Of Practice

Extrication under ideal conditions is difficult. In the real world, it will be dark, cold, icy, snowy, and/or hot. The terrain will be uneven and there will be inconsiderate drivers who don’t care about what you are doing and are only interested in getting to their destinations. Besides the basic training, you need repetition and practice to be competent in the essential skills.

One potential aid to improved performance is competition. The Transportation Emergency Rescue Committee (TERC) is an organization that specializes in extrication competitions with a U.S. division and an international division. TERC has regional, national and international competitions with specific rules. Involvement in a competition will improve performance. Firefighters will want to be competitive and will practice to get better.

While practice helps in the competition, it translates to better performance during an emergency. You can contact TERC through its Web site. There are others that specialize in extrication. Whatever you choose, remember these are resources that can be used to improve performance.

Performance Is Critical

Automobile extrication isn’t about tearing apart a vehicle. It is a systematic means to free an individual or individuals who are trapped. Most of the time, the trapped people are injured, often seriously.

Your performance during the extrication is critical to a positive outcome. It requires the right equipment and its proper use. Training and practice are essential.

Finally, don’t forget safety. This involves scene safety – providing as safe a work environment as possible using apparatus and other means to protect the firefighters – and the safe operation of high performance tools.

Also remember the potential hazards of the vehicles such as airbags, batteries and others.

Auto extrication is a critical job function that may not be a frequently occurring event in your department. Proper preparation, continuing education, and practice will make sure that the person having a bad day gets the best service possible.

Editor’s Note: Richard Marinucci is chief of the Farmington Hills (Mich.) Fire Department, a position he’s held since 1984. He is a past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) and past chairman of the Commission on Chief Fire Officer Designation. In 1999 he served as acting chief operating officer of the U.S. Fire Administration for seven months. He holds three bachelor’s degrees in fire science and administration and has taught extensively.

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