There are many rescue scenarios that require fire department responses and require proper preparations and the tools to do the job. The most frequent rescue calls are to motor vehicle crashes that require extrication.
The methods, techniques, and equipment needs continue to evolve and improve as the challenges of accessing patients in newer vehicles increase and more tools become available. If you add to this the growing run volume in most departments, you begin to see the difficulties in staying current in the area of job responsibilities. Yet, that is exactly what needs to be done so a plan to do so is essential.
TYPES OF CALLS
Assessing the types of calls you may be asked to respond to will be the best place to start. Obviously, all departments have the potential to respond to a crash with an entrapment that requires extrication. Modes of transportation in your jurisdiction should be inventoried and potential challenges evaluated. In most cases, it is automobiles, buses, and trucks. Bigger cities have additional means of transit, but this article will focus on roadway incidents. Threats on roadways include two-lane highways, interstates, and city roads. With respect to extrications, frequency can be expected more often when speeds are higher. That would make interstates and other highways more likely to have incidents. If your jurisdiction has roadways such as these, you can expect more action and need to be prepared. Also understand that not every extrication will be the same because of various factors based on the vehicles involved.
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Working on the roadway is one of the more dangerous places for firefighters trying to do their jobs. There are things to be done to minimize risks. This involves creating as safe a work zone as possible. There is now a roadway safety standard from the National Fire Protection Association and many resources available from the Emergency Responder Safety Institute and its Responder Safety Learning Network. The Website is www.respondersafety.com. Knowing what is needed to improve work zone safety is critical for extrications in that the workers don’t need distractions and must be able to focus on the job at hand.
NEW VEHICLE CHARACTERISTICS
Knowledge of modern vehicles is very important. Understand that there are many ways to power vehicles today besides gasoline, including electricity (batteries), natural gas, propane, and the like. Each presents its own risks and hazards during an extrication. The more you know, the better the decision you can make. It is very important to stay up on the industry and learn what you can regarding emerging technologies. Besides the fuel, safety features and materials used add to the challenges that can affect operations during an extrication. Materials such as high-strength steel may require different methods or equipment. Safety features such as air bags present a risk if they are not considered. Besides passenger vehicles (automobiles), firefighters must gain additional information on other vehicles such as buses and commercial trucks. Obviously, trucks come in many sizes and shapes and offer differing challenges to responders during an extrication.
OPERATIONS AND EQUIPMENT
Not all crashes occur during good weather and during daylight hours. In fact, poor weather and nighttime events are much more likely. As such, your department must have the tools to assist. This would include lighting and adequate warning devices. Well-lit work areas not only improve the basic operation but improve the safety of the responders. For those agencies that work in colder climates, actions to cope with the weather must be factored into all operations.
Having the right equipment to do the job is essential for those who desire to be at the top of their game. As vehicle composition and components have changed, so have the needs for different tools. This presents a couple of challenges. First, and most important, is gaining and maintaining competence with the tools that you carry. Learning the best way to use something after you get called to an emergency is not going to work. You will need to know what works in specific situations and scenarios and on what vehicles. You need to practice to attain the appropriate level of competence. In some cases, unconscious competence is required and in other instances, there may be more discretionary time.
The second issue with equipment is where you put it. As you add the necessary tools, there needs to be a location on apparatus. If you are getting new vehicles, you can consider the needs in the specification process. But, more than likely, departments add equipment with existing apparatus. There are some considerations. Can bulky, older equipment be replaced by lighter-weight versions that are just as capable and take up less space? Converting to battery-operated models may also help. If you do not have separate power generators, less space is required. It may also be a good time to assess what you do carry. If you have tools and equipment that you have not used in a long time (in modern memory), perhaps it is time to retire them. Do the inventory so you are ready with the equipment that is needed and you “clean out” the unneeded tools.
Training, training, and training. It sounds like a broken record at times, but competence is only improved through training. In the area of extrication, the quicker someone is removed and transported to definitive care, the better the outcome. Eventually all “victims” are extricated. The faster it happens is based on training and repetition. It involves the knowledge needed and enough “sets and reps” to be really good. Departments remain challenged to get this done as run volumes continue to increase and more job responsibilities are added. Regardless, proper planning is essential so that firefighters are ready for an incident where a difference can be made.
It is challenging to get newer vehicles on which to practice. In many instances, departments use local junkyards to get the right practice. This is not all bad, but some effort must be made to look toward the hazards likely to be faced. You will need to know if the tools you carry are capable of working on newer vehicles. In the absence of this option, continue to study and read as much as possible. Do your research so your training and equipment meet the potential hazards and risks that you face. Do whatever is possible to avoid complacency and prepare as if you will get calls such as these on every shift or every day.
Rescue operations seem to change very rapidly because of many factors. Vehicles are constantly changing based on new materials and technology along with the fuels used to power them. In addition, equipment is becoming more efficient and effective. The result is that fire departments must be vigilant in paying attention to issues that affect their ability to deliver quality service. As the world gets more complex, so does the firefighter’s job. It is easy to sometimes overlook some facets of the job, but due diligence is required. Stay focused and prepared.
RICHARD MARINUCCI is the executive director of the Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA). He retired as chief of the Farmington Hills (MI) Fire Department in 2008, a position he had held since 1984. He is a Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipmentand Fire Engineering Editorial Advisory Board member, 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 has a master’s degree and three bachelor’s degrees in fire science and administration and has taught extensively.