Controlled Roll of a Side-Resting Vehicle


You’ve probably heard some “expert” say that you can’t move an accident vehicle with a victim inside. Hopefully, you weren’t the one who said it. It’s been done successfully in many situations. What about moving a side-resting passenger car back on its wheels or at least partially to lift a dash or free an encapsulated foot, for example? Recently, students at the 2008 South Dakota Rescue School helped me determine how well it would work.

I placed a firefighter in the driver’s seat on the low side, with a firefighter in the rear seat to manage the driver’s stabilization. I then positioned a pickup at the vehicle’s undercarriage side with two lines attached between it and the front and rear posts of the vehicle on its side. I did the same with a pickup at the passenger compartment vehicle’s side. All lines were tensioned, and the side-resting vehicle was restrained from forward/backward movement. The pickup at the undercarriage side slowly pulled the vehicle to its wheels. The pickup at the passenger compartment side maintained tension until the vehicle was safely on its wheels. The firefighters inside the side-resting car indicated they felt very comfortable and considered it a viable maneuver.

Those involved in this experiment, as well as those observing, unanimously agreed that they would not hesitate to implement the concept if ever warranted.

Photo by author.

The above scenario was in an open setting with plenty of room around the vehicle to position apparatus. In addition, no obstacles were in the way. In a more realistic situation, there will be limited space because of the presence of trees, vehicles, or debris. The solution here may be a partial vehicle roll using reversible lifting struts or a combination of struts and tow lines. I believe there are three basic possibilities:

1 Apparatus or winch access from two sides.

2 Apparatus or winch access from one side. The struts are positioned on the same side of the vehicle as the winch. If the winch is pulling from the undercarriage, then operate the struts in reverse; they will act as resistance on the undercarriage side. If your only access is the passenger side, then lift or push the struts on that side, and the winch will act as resistance.

3 No apparatus or winch access from either side. Place struts on both sides.

I asked Chief Dominick Smith of the Watkins Glen (NY) Fire Department to help me determine if we could take the Res-Q-Jack® lifting struts and tilt the car back on its wheels until we had room to perform a low-side dash lift. He gladly offered assistance.

We used the new X-Strut™ lifting struts—which are combination struts. They transform with ease from a passive shoring strut to an active lifting or lowering strut in seconds. One strut with a fully extended lift jack and an extended strut was applied to the undercarriage side near the engine compartment. Another strut with a collapsed lifting jack and collapsed strut was applied at the passenger compartment side of the vehicle, opposite the other strut. As the passenger side strut was extended, the opposite strut was simultaneously lowered until the jack travel limit was reached. The strut was then pinned while the jacks were reset. The operation continued until the jack travel limit was once again reached. The result was amazing. The vehicle was now tilted at about a 30° angle with plenty of clearance beneath the door.

We took the roof, popped the door, and made relief cuts in the A-post. A ram would have easily tackled the job off the base of the B-post, but we had only cutters and spreaders, so we employed the standard spreader dash push. We were thrilled with the successful outcome.

Will it work if a victim is in the space? A victim would certainly complicate the situation, but a backboard and straps may be the solution to holding the victim up to provide tool space.

What if struts can’t be placed on one side for a variety of reasons? Can you pull the vehicle to struts from just the undercarriage side only? Can you push the vehicle against a tie line if a strut can’t be placed at the undercarriage side? I believe the answer to these questions is yes, but we’ll be playing around in the yard to be sure.

CRIS PASTO is a design engineer for Res-Q-Jack, Inc. and a firefighter for the Spencer (NY) Fire Department.

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