Los Angeles County (CA) Fire Department’s Response Capabilities Boosted by Apparatus

by Larry Collins

From the PBI Performance Products, Inc. e-Newsletter, sponsored by

The Los Angeles County (CA) Fire Department (LACoFD) expanded the technical rescue capability of its Urban Search and Rescue (USAR)/rescue companies with the addition of Heavy Rescue 103 (HR 103), a rotator boom apparatus. HR103 was first staffed in February 2008.

HR103 typically responds to the same categories of emergencies that require a USAR/rescue company response, but also generally necessitates a full range of heavy-lift operations. The new Century Class, three-stage apparatus has a 360° rotating and telescoping boom rated at 60 tons, dual cables, a capstan system, and other features to assist in moving and lifting heavy loads and performing heavy extrication operations.

In Los Angeles County, HR103 is available for response to emergencies that involve heavy lifting and to assist other fire departments through mutual-aid arrangements.

During its first week in operation, HR103 was special-called to assist USAR Task Force 103 (TF 103) in freeing a horse that was reported to be trapped 200 feet over the side in a canyon in the city of San Dimas. The Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control’s “Department Animal Rescue Team” (DART) and a volunteer veterinarian also responded, in accordance with established collaborative protocols for large animal rescues.

First-due LACoFD Engine 141’s crew found a horse that had tumbled into a creek bed and appeared to be in unstable condition from lying in cold water for an extended period. The horse was unable to get up, even with assistance. Battalion 2 (David Gehr) assumed the role of incident commander on his arrival. Engine 141, Quint 153, Superintendent 19, and Camp Crew 2-2 began clearing debris and vegetation out of the way with hand tools and chain saws.

A thick tree canopy and power lines overhead prevented the use of a helicopter for lifting. HR103 was put to the test. Because the overhead power lines would also prevent HR103’s boom from extending directly over the horse for a straight lift, the plan was to use a combination of USAR-103’s UC Davis Large Animal Lift Harness and the Rescue Glide device (designed for dragging recumbent horses and other large animals).

HR103’s engineer extended the boom beneath the power lines toward the ravine while HR 103’s rigger for that day’s operations coordinated the rigging operations. Other TF103 personnel installed a specialized horse rescue harness and used a “Glide” to negotiate the horse up the steep slope. The engineer operated HR103’s dual winch cable controls to alternately lift and pull the horse out of the creek bed and up the slope to a flat area by the stables.

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It was a good test of HR103, one of many that have since followed in LACoFD’s vast jurisdiction, in which almost every kind of technical rescue situation imaginable seems to happen.

In addition to the horse rescue, HR 103 was dispatched to nearly two dozen emergencies during its first month in operation. These incidents included a structure collapse and several “traffic collision/major” incidents: a search and rescue operation involving an occupied vehicle that drove into a lake; several vehicle-over-the side rescues in the high mountains around Los Angeles; and a person trapped beneath a vehicle, resulting in a traffic collision.

Since that time, there has been a steady drumbeat of unusual responses, including incidents involving lifting passenger vehicles and big rigs off victims on the street and in deep canyons. Recently this unit played an essential role in searching a building that was struck by a runaway semi-truck that lost its brakes on a steep downgrade, killed two motorists as it plowed through a busy intersection and blasted into occupied businesses nearly crushing other victims.

And the LACoFD has adjusted its response matrices to make the most effective use of this specialized unit, placing it on a wide variety of technical rescue response first alarms (including large animal rescue). In June 2009, HR103 was dispatched on yet another horse rescue (this one involving a horse that fell off a bridge and landed upside down on its rider in a narrow culvert, requiring LACoFD firefighters to use HR103 to lift the horse upside down by its legs using special “hobbles” and adapting the horse rescue harness to allow for a careful upside-down lift operation.

(5) Photo by Fred Stowers, LACoFD.
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Only a few fire departments in the nation have units of HR 103’s design and capability. They include the Los Angeles Fire Department (which originated and perfected its use over many years) and the Washington, D.C., Fire Department. Since this unit helps to save lives, it is likely that it will become a growing trend in the future.

HR 103 Specifications and Functions

Heavy Rescue 103 (HR 103) is a 60-ton, Century Class, three-stage 360° rotating boom apparatus that may be used for various major types of incidents including the following:

  • Traffic collision-major extrication (semitruck and other large vehicles on passenger vehicles)
  • Train-vs.-auto rescues
  • Vehicle “over the side” incidents that require stabilization or lifting vehicles off victims or an extended and adjustable high point for rope or cable/winch rescue systems.
  • Structure collapse operations
  • Rapid intervention operations (e.g., personnel pinned beneath debris)
  • Lifting/moving submerged vehicles to facilitate a comprehensive search for victims below and inside the vehicle
  • Removal of a parapet and other hazards during structure fires
  • Trench rescues (high point for vertical extrication)
  • Swift water incidents (e.g., extendable and adjustable high point for high lines, stabilization of vehicles in the water)
  • Large animal rescues (lifting)
  • Boom-mounted lighting system
  • Confined-space extrications (e.g., including vertical extraction, high point)
  • Lifting and moving of heavy equipment over debris or other obstacles at fires and rescues
  • Special extrication emergencies
  • High point for rope systems in vertical entry operations (like confined spaces)
  • Lifting and lowering equipment in below-grade and above-grade rescues and fires
  • Train collisions
  • Aircraft crashes
  • Marine disasters (retrieving heavy debris towed to docks by rescue watercraft)

The onboard Amkus™ extrication system is easily accessible. Hose reels are mounted on the right and left sides with a permanently mounted high-capacity hydraulic power unit. As the vehicle arrives on-scene, the extrication system is made operational using controls inside the cab.

The firefighter can exit the vehicle, open the door of the first cabinet, connect the hose, and remove the cutting tools/jaws. The tool is in hand and ready to work in less than 20 seconds to a range of 66 feet. The engineer/operator, with a controller in hand, can be adjacent to the cutting tool; ready to shut the system down as needed.

The capstan unit, boom, cables, and lighting system are designed for heavy lifting/stabilization/moving operations during rescue, search, and other emergency operations. It provides an extendable and adjustable high point for rescuers over the side and can help to quickly stabilize a vehicle while simultaneously bringing extrication tools, a stokes basket, and paramedics to an injured citizen.

HR103 carries many other tools, including a smaller portable Amkus™. All these systems are incorporated into the fundamental apparatus design and allow the LACoFD to provide enhanced heavy rescue service.

Larry Collins is a 29-year member of the County of Los Angeles Fire Department (LACoFD); a rescue captain for 18 years, currently assigned to USAR Task Force 103, which responds to technical rescues and multialarm fires across Los Angeles County. He is a search team manager for the LACoFD’s FEMA/OFDA US&R Task Force for domestic and international response, and he serves on the FEMA US&R Incident Support Teams. . He is the author of dozens of fire service magazine research articles and case studies, the textbook series Technical Rescue Operations I and II (Fire Engineering, 2004, 2005 respectively), the Rescue chapter of The Fire Chiefs Handbook, and the Support of Rescue Operations chapter of Fire Engineering’s Handbook for Firefighter I and II, soon to be released.

Subjects: Firefighter rescue operations, large animal rescue

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