What Is A TERCUSA And How Do I Use It?

A rescue team member from the Montauk (N.Y.) Fire Department makes a cut with the Makita cordless band saw
A rescue team member from the Montauk (N.Y.) Fire Department makes a cut with the Makita cordless band saw. (Fire Apparatus Photo by Carl Avery)
A team member from Waterford, N.J. uses a ratchet strap to help stabilize a crash scene.
A team member from Waterford, N.J. uses a ratchet strap to help stabilize a crash scene. (Fire Apparatus Photo by Carl Avery)

How many of you use some form of step chock or step cribbing? Where were these first seen? How about buttress or “tensioned” buttress cribbing, especially the commercially made stuff like ZMAG ground pads, Rescue 42’s TeleCrib, or Res-Q-Jack? Do you know where these tools came to prominence? These concepts were born out of needs identified and later built upon through networking that centered on extrication challenges and competitions.

For example, one of the first commercial buttress systems, ZMAG ground pads, came about from their inventor attending an extrication challenge and seeing a need. The unique forum that the challenges and competitions provide has served as part of his R&D department for several years.

When teams identified a problem or came up with alternate solutions to existing problems, the tools were modified and updated. Of course other vendors came up with their solutions too; some of them from other sources, but all of them to one degree or another have networked about the problems and their solutions through and around extrication challenges and competitions.

From June 24 to 28, more than two dozen teams of rescuers (21 American and five Canadian) met in Rochester, N.Y., to participate in Auto X 2008, the National Extrication Challenge/Competition. The challenges are one of the most unique training opportunities that exist in the field of vehicle rescue. Whoa. Since when is a competition a training and educational event? Since the idea began a little more than 20 years ago at the Ontario Fire College in Gravenhurst, Ontario, Canada.

The Ontario fire marshal was returning from an event in Ottawa where vendors were displaying their latest rescue equipment. The fire marshal thought that was all well and good, but questioned how it reflected real world “zero-dark-thirty” calls? The truth was it didn’t. So the idea of an extrication competition/challenge was born.

The format is this: Teams are sequestered while the “Master of Mayhem,” otherwise known as the “Pit Boss,” and his team set up a vehicle crash scenario; the teams are released from sequester, and they have 20 minutes to solve the crash challenge using tools they have pre-staged, their talents, teamwork and techniques they have developed.

The teams are scored on a series of criteria that run common to all crash rescue scenarios. So where does the learning part come in? There are two areas where that comes through. The first is the debriefing by the team of “Assessors” (judges). All of them are vehicle rescue educators who have undergone a series of apprentice-like trainings before they reach qualification. The assessors go over their evaluation with the team, reinforcing positives as well as making suggestions to correct deficiencies. Other training occurs as the teams scrutinize each other.

This is all sanctioned in the United States by TERCUSA, the Transportation Emergency Rescue Committee, United States of America. At TERCUSA-sanctioned events, competing team members are all looking for an idea, a trick, a tool, a technique that will help them do their job of vehicle rescue a bit better. One unique aspect of extrication competitions is the camaraderie among the participants. It is far from unusual to see teams sharing and swapping ideas before, during and after each round.

One other thing to note here, learning and networking is not limited to the teams. Anyone attending events is more than welcome to network with the teams and learn from watching them take on their challenges.

Vehicle rescue is the art and science of combining tools, talents, training and techniques to free an entrapped person and to help improve the potential outcome of those involved. It is very easy to think of hydraulic rescue tools when we think entrapment. It is true that spreaders and cutters are core components of most extrications, but they are not the only players.

To use a culinary comparison, I think we all would agree that tomatoes are the core component of spaghetti sauce. But a spaghetti sauce made of only tomatoes just wouldn’t make it. For the sauce to be good it would need spices and in some cases other vegetables and meats. Vehicle rescue – to be really good – requires a mix of core components with supporting and other equipment. Rescue team leaders need to keep that in mind as they lay out their action plans, and team members need to know what role each tool in their cache could play and how to apply it when needed.

Manufacturer Support

This year we saw rescue tools from Amkus, Genesis, Holmatro, Hurst, Phoenix and T-N-T, much the same as years past. The manufacturers were there supporting the teams that use their tools day-in and day-out on the street. Local, regional and national sales and support staff from each of the companies displayed their products and allowed the teams to use the tools they use at home in the pits.

It was quite interesting to see the sales and support teams working together in the education pit (a place where competing teams can try out new tools or display new techniques that they have developed). When it came to giving attendees a chance to gain visual and hands-on experience, the sales and support teams stepped up and worked shoulder-to-shoulder.

Another benefit of the competition was a chance to see rescue tools performing. One company that stood out this year was Hurst. Its staff devoted a lot of attention to Hurst’s single point of contact hydraulic connector using Streamline technology. It is virtually identical to the one being used by Genesis Rescue tools, which is known as the OSC (One Step Coaxial) coupler. Both systems can be easily retrofitted to existing tools and pumps. The connectors allow “hot swaps” of rescue tools, which means no need to shut down hydraulic fluid to change tools.

A simple twist of the locking collars allows fast, uncomplicated swaps. Rumors were floating around that you should expect to see similar systems with other rescue tools. The systems used by Hurst and Genesis are not the same as Holmatro’s CORE technology that was introduced in 2005. The differences should be fully explored before making purchasing decisions.

Sometimes in vehicle rescue it is the little things that make a big difference – things like the over-grown zip ties that the team from Lancaster, Pa., used to tie down and secure loose pieces of auto body as they performed their rescues in this year’s national competition.

Another “little tool” used by virtually every team were web belts with ratchets (ratchet straps) to tighten and secure things in place. They were commonly used in stabilization of the crash scene to secure one car to another or to an immoveable object such as a jersey barrier (K rail). Also used were small rope ratchets, devices that use a ratcheted pulley system to give a rescuer a simple mechanical advantage to hyper-extend and secure a door or other car part that has been displaced.

One tool company that we had not seen much of before this year was Makita Power Tools. Makita representatives were there supporting a team that uses their tools. One interesting thing that came out of their attendance was the testing of a new idea for a different tool that may have a big impact in the field of vehicle rescue – a cordless band saw. The tool demonstrated several advantages and one serious drawback.

While doing some work in the education pit with a rescue team from Montauk, N.Y., we tried out a cordless band saw against a cordless reciprocating saw. The band saw was much smoother in operation and displayed superior cutting ability due in part to the continuous uni-directional belt like motion of the band saw’s blade. Another plus to the band saw was less wear and tear on the blade.

Less Fatigue

The nature of the band saw is to spread the cut over the full length of the blade, where with the reciprocating saw, depending on the size of what you are cutting, all the cutting force is on whatever the stroke of the saw is. This concentrates all the wear and tear and heat from cutting on a relatively small portion of the blade.

Operators reported less fatigue operating the band saw versus the reciprocating saw. That sounds good, and it is, except for one thing. The saw is great for one cut, and then the blade becomes entrapped in the car. We had to use a reciprocating saw to create a second cut so we could remove the band saw.

Despite that drawback, all of us there felt the potential benefits made this tool worthy of more research to determine whether techniques could be developed to help us take advantage of its attributes. I encourage anyone who has access to portable band saws (cordless or corded) to see if you can come up with a way to overcome this limitation and share it with us. I know of several departments and extrication educators who are working on this challenge. This is yet another example of what can and does happen at an extrication challenge.

Of course it is not just the vendors who bring new ideas. One technique that has showed up on the extrication challenge circuit and was used frequently during the scenarios is the use of a tool known as a GoJak built by Zendex Tool Corporation. The GoJak is a dolly jack that lifts a vehicle by its tires and enables it to be moved. The tool is frequently used in garages, body shops and showrooms to facilitate car movement. In the challenges, it is often used to move a blocking car – one that is part of the scenario that may inhibit access or egress from an occupied car, but has no patients.

Just Another Idea

Teams that work with these tools in the competition, also report that they have found a use on the street, especially on limited access highways, where jockeying a tow-truck can be dangerous and time consuming. It’s just another idea – like step chocks – that came from the competitors who participate in extrication challenges.

If you are involved in rescue, do yourself and your customers/patients a huge favor. Make some time to attend a TERC Rescue Challenge. The challenges are held regionally and on a national level. Get out there and see what your brother and sister rescuers are using to make space and improve outcomes. For more information on TERCUSA and vehicle rescue challenges go to www.terc.us. Here is hoping to see you at an extrication challenge real soon. Stop me and say hi, if I don’t do it first. Let’s network.

Editor’s Note: Carl D. Avery is 37-year member of the Fire Service, originally serving in the Cleveland (N.Y.) Volunteer Fire Department and now the program coordinator at the York County Fire School in Pennsylvania. He is certified as a Fire Instructor II, is a member of the Transportation Emergency Rescue Committee United States of America and is a National Extrication Judge.

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