By David Dalrymple
Let’s turn the hands of the clock back for a moment. In the past, occupants would get trapped when the steering column and wheel came down on the driver’s legs in a significant crash. At times, the dash might drop down as well, entrapping either of the front seat occupants. However, that was fairly uncommon. As time moved along and vehicle construction changed, we saw more dash entrapments and fewer steering column entrapments. In today’s vehicle crashes, we see an increasing need to displace dashes and/or footwells.
(1) Photos by author.
How did we displace the steering column and dashes? Again, let’s look back: We would displace the column by using chains in a chain wrap with a come-a-long, high lift jack, Porto power, power hydraulic spreader, or even high-pressure lifting bags. Although this technique has fallen from favor for a number of reasons (it still works well on trucks), the advent of the power hydraulic ram led to the dash roll technique and better operational capabilities to move the dash area.
In the recent past, we used the dash lift (photo 2) technique in which we used the vehicle’s own dash reinforcement to assist us in displacing the dash and even the footwell area. Even more recently, we have seen some variation of that evolution and even better success with the addition of the extra relief cut into the crumple or energy-absorption zone in the vehicle’s front rail.
Why do we have more dash/footwell extrication concerns today? Vehicle construction has changed, away from full-frame to unibody construction, making that part of the vehicle susceptible to weakening in a crash. Add to this the vehicle’s inherent ability now to absorb crash energy within the vehicle structure so that the vehicle will readily “crumple” in the front and rear (less so from the sides; in fact, the car is now much stronger and stiffer from the sides). Now, we have vehicles that, mainly because of a change in construction coupled with a mindset change in how to better protect occupants, will “give” more readily in a significant crash in the dash/footwell.
So far, we have displaced the dash by rolling or lifting it upward. But what about pushing it back in the direction from which it came? In Sweden, rescuers do just that successfully on a frequent basis. In Sweden, this technique is called “the central ram push,” or, as I have coined it, “Da Swede Slide.” (photo 3) Some of you may have seen this evolution done at the 2008 Fire Department Instructors Conference Hands-On Training program “Modern Vehicles-Technology & Techniques.” The instructor, Goran Valentin from the Swedish National Rescue Agency, was part of the staff and led each of the student groups in how to use this evolution effectively on a variety of new vehicles, from a compact car (Ford Focus) to a crossover (Taurus X) to pick-ups (F-150/250 Maxi Cab).
This evolution works best when the roof is removed. (photo 4) However, it will work also with the roof still intact. You will need a large power hydraulic ram and usually a ram extension as well.
Place the ram between the two front seats in line between the dash and the rear seat of the vehicle. Place one end of the ram on the rear seat; support it with a special ram support plate or a rocker panel ram support such as a ram jam or cribbing or a combination of cribbing and ram support. The other end of the ram will have a large claw attachment. Place the rear seat (photo 5) support onto the joint of the rear seat back and bottom; the ram end goes against that. Place the opposite end with the claw against the vehicle’s dash in the area of the vehicle radio. With patient protection in place, operate the ram. As the ram extends, the claw end crushes (photo 6) through the dash and makes contact with the vehicle’s dash reinforcement bar.
The size and shape of the claw end, much akin to a large “C,” help the ram center onto the reinforcement bar naturally. Once the ram makes contact with that bar, the force of the ram is spread out across the bar. As force is applied, the reinforcement bar–tied into the firewall area of the vehicle very tightly–will basically lever the vehicle’s front forward, in reverse of the direction that the front end had come, as it has absorbed crash energy. This evolution basically forces the dash “back” into the direction from which it came, rearward (photo 7), as the vehicle has absorbed energy from the crash and crush.
This presents options for dash displacement: the dash roll, which “rolls” the dash forward; the dash lift, which “lifts” the dash upward; and the central ram push or “Swede slide” that “pushes” the dash forward. Why have additional options? In addition to dashes that collapse onto the front-seat occupants, we now see an increasing number of footwell entrapments, in which the footwell wraps around the occupant’s feet and even lower legs. A dash roll evolution might make a footwell entrapment worse as it proceeds. As with any tool evolution, you must closely supervise the patient at all times, especially with a dash displacement. Many things occur during a dash displacement evolution: Tools move, various parts of the vehicle move, stabilization can shift and usually does shift and move. You need to be aware of (photo 8) where you are and where the patient is during the evolution. Also, patient protection should take into account all of these factors as well, since debris may be coming from various directions. (photo 9) You specifically need to closely observe the patient’s legs and feet in dash displacement evolutions.
In addition to this central ram push, an additional ram might be employed in the door opening to push the footwell area back horizontally. Although this doesn’t give the dash push more force, it targets the footwell and forces it back and even outward a bit. This tactic alone gives you another tool for your mental toolbox if you are faced with a footwell entrapment. (photo 10)
You should do the following when using this evolution. Keep your eyes on both ends of the ram. Watch the end of the ram on the rear seat to see how the ram support pushes against the seat (photo 11). You don’t want the rear seat back to collapse. Placement of the other end of the ram with claw attachment is not “hard and fast.” The aim is usually the area of the vehicle’s radio; however, you need to be close to midpoint of the dash, horizontally and vertically. The claw attachment should be a wide “C” shape to lock into the dash reinforcement bar. Usually, the largest ram with an extension on it is used. It is big and heavy and will be hard to maneuver in the vehicle, especially if the roof is intact. (photo 12)
In addition to the photos in this article, take a good look at the embedded video clips of this evolution. As you can see from these clips, this evolution can be quite effective on today’s vehicles. The dash reinforcement bar is very strong and is tied into the vehicle’s front substantially. This allows rescuers to use part of the vehicle to work for them. The strength of today’s vehicle components–which many times can be a hindrance– in this instance can work to our advantage. By working and thinking “smart,” we can defeat the vehicle by using its components for our benefit.
As with any tool evolution, there is no one solution. With today’s vehicles, we need to be savvy and consider how the vehicle was assembled if we are to disassemble it efficiently and safely. We realize our tools many times cannot simply muscle through the vehicle to disentangle patients. We need more options in our mental toolbox today, and an open mind and a sharp eye to quickly and thoroughly evaluate the vehicles involved. Try this evolution. It takes some practice and the right components; however, it might just give you the edge at your next “pin job” out there on the street.
DAVID DALRYMPLE, a 26-year veteran of the emergency services, is a career EMS provider for the RWJUH Emergency Services in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and a volunteer rescue services lieutenant for Clinton (NJ) EMS/Rescue. He is the education chair of the Transportation Emergency Rescue Committee—US (TERC), a certified international level extrication assessor, a road traffic accident advisor to IETRI, and a member of the IAFC Specialized Technical Rescue Committee. He is a NJ-certified fire service instructor, an ICET-certified registered international SAVER instructor, the lead instructor for vehicle rescue programs at the Hunterdon County Emergency Services Training Center, and the executive educator for Roadway Rescue LLC. He writes for the Extrication Tactics column in Fire Engineering and is a contributing author for its Firefighter I and II Handbook.