At 1415 hours on July 6, 1998, the Rockland County (NY) Fire Communications Center (44 Control) received a call that a garbage truck had crashed on Route 59 in Nanuet, New York. Route 59, a major thoroughfare in Rockland County, has two lanes traveling east and two lanes traveling west. Reportedly, the driver lost his brakes while proceeding down a steep incline. The driver veered to his right and jumped the sidewalk so that he would not hit and injure people waiting in their automobiles for a traffic light ahead to change. The truck hit a large commercial signpost, and the signpost`s structural member became embedded in the truck, trapping the driver.

Firefighters from the Nanuet (NY) Fire District responded. Twenty minutes later, the Pearl River (NY) Fire District provided mutual aid.


The main objectives were to stabilize the truck and extricate the driver. However, before the rescue could be attempted, the following had to be done:

The power to the signpost, which contained electric signs, had to be shut off.

Two of the five signs hanging on the signpost had become unstable and had to be secured before firefighters could attempt an extrication. The signs were secured with a come-along tool wrapped around the sign-post and attached by rescuers to a tower ladder.

The engine had to be shut off and the two batteries dis-connected.

Diesel fuel leaking from the truck`s damaged fuel tank had to be cleaned up. The Rockland County Hazardous Material Team accomplished this with absorbent materials and booms.


The stabilization procedure was complex because of the size and weight of the truck and the fact that the truck was slightly leaning on a slope. Wheel chocks used for fire trucks (automobile chocks were too small) were placed on the tires. Several box cribs were erected in strategic locations. Because of the truck`s excessive weight, 4-inch 2 4-inch wood was used in a three-crib-per-layer method, which used a lot of wood cribbing; additional cribbing had to be located. For additional stabilization, two tow straps of a commercial tow truck called to the scene were placed around the truck.


We were now ready for the disentanglement/extrication. The driver was pinned between the A-post and the steering wheel. The damaged passenger door was opened with a hydraulic spreader. A paramedic was now able to enter the cab portion of the truck and medically evaluate the driver.

Rescuers now focused on removing the signpost, which had entered the cab along with the A-post. The driver`s door was opened using the hydraulic spreader and hydraulic shears to cut the hinges. Removing this door made the dashboard area visible to rescuers.

The next step was to separate the cab as much as possible from the motor portion of the vehicle and then displace the dashboard and steering wheel. An air chisel and reciprocating saw were used to make a vertical cut in the A-post. To keep the reciprocating saw blade sharp, one of the rescuers was assigned to lubricate the blade with soapy water. One set of chains was wrapped around the steering column twice. Another set of chains was attached to the towing hook under the bumper. Both chains were then connected to the opened hydraulic spreader. On command, we attempted to close the hydraulic spreader and therefore displace the dashboard and steering wheel. Unfortunately, this truck body was just too strong to move.

We then placed a 60-inch ram on the driver`s side of the bottom of the B-post to the top portion of the A-post at a 457 angle. Another 60-inch ram was placed on the passenger side at the same angle. There were now three points at which pressure was being applied to displace the dashboard and steering column. At the count of three, all three rescuers slowly turned on their separate tools. Coordination was key in this deployment. While one member watched the reaction of the metal, the dashboard and steering column moved away and off the victim. The dashboard and steering wheel had to be displaced about 16 inches before we could start to remove the victim. The paramedic monitored the victim`s vital signs throughout the extrication; fortunately, they remained stable. After nearly 90 minutes, the victim was removed from the wreckage and transported to a hospital. The driver sustained serious injuries and slowly recuperated.


All absorbent materials containing any fuels were removed from the scene. A commercial crane company was called to secure and remove the signs on the damaged post. The truck, impounded by the State Department of Transportation, was towed to the police pound for investigation of its mechanical parts. Summonses were issued for mechanical failure of the truck`s air-braking system and for overloading the truck.


Size-up is the key to a successful operation.

Stabilization is paramount.

This incident involved numerous tools that were used simultaneously with coordination.

Mutual-aid fire departments were dispatched for additional personnel and tools. These departments provided immediately the additional wood cribbing needed.

In future incidents involving trucks, a commercial flatbed truck might be considered as a platform from which rescuers could work and on which tools could be placed.

The physical size, weight, and structural strength of these trucks are extraordinary. Working on heavy trucks requires extensive knowledge and specialized tools. The incident commander must realize the limitations of the department and use other resources such as mutual aid, commercial towing companies, crane operators, utility companies, and so on, to assist in the overall rescue plan. n

The truck`s size, weight, and position (on a slope) made stabilizing the garbage truck difficult. Fire truck wheel chocks were used, several box cribs were erected in strategic locations, and two tow straps of a commercial tow truck were placed around the truck. (Photos by Jeff Reed.)

(Top) Close-up of truck driver`s extrication. Note the sign pole inside the cab with pinned driver. (Bottom) Two of the five signs hanging on the signpost had become unstable and had to be secured before rescuers could attempt an extrication.

Basics of a Heavy-Duty Truck Extrication

Every fire department responds to a vehicle extrication at one time or another. Often, automobiles are involved; occasionally, trucks and heavy construction equipment may be involved. We all have large trucks passing through our response areas. Most truck disentanglement/extrications are very different from car disentanglement/extrications. Some of the obvious differences between a truck and a car are weight, height, length, construction (stronger), cargo (maybe hazardous materials), larger tires, and no air bags (SRS). Trucks sometimes have as many as seven axles. In most states, each axle could hold up to 20,000 pounds. Therefore, a seven-axle truck can weigh as much as 140,000 pounds, including cargo.

Basically, three types of trucks are on the road today–straight, tractor-trailer, and specialty. Straight trucks are one-piece delivery-type trucks and weigh between 25,000 and 40,000 pounds. Tractor-trailers are two- or three-piece combination trucks and can weigh as much as 140,000 pounds, including cargo. Specialty trucks may be of the straight or tractor-trailer type, depending on the intended use. For instance, a dump truck could be carrying stone or dirt, a fire truck carries water, and so on. The truck`s cargo determines its specialty purpose, and this fact sometimes creates a problem for rescuers at extrications.

Each classification has the same two cab classifications: conventional and cab-over. The engine in a truck with a conventional cab is in front of the driver, just as it is in most cars. In the cab-over type truck, the engine is inside the cab, which has a flat front. In this type of truck, the driver is usually more seriously injured because there is less protection.


Windshield glass is made of laminated glass. Two sheets of laminated glass are bound together with a plastic laminate sandwiched between the multiple layers of glass to form the finished product. This prevents the occupant(s) from going through the windshield glass. This glass can be removed by cutting it out with an electric or manual saw or by removing the black gasket around the windshield and removing the glass by hand. This could be done by removing the inner pressure strip with a screwdriver blade or knife and then removing the larger outer gasket. For safety reasons, the glass should be placed under the vehicle or far away from the accident site. Windshield glass could become a hazard for rescuers.

The side glass, which is tempered glass, can be removed with a spring-loaded center punch or similar tool. If time permits, it`s a good idea to place duct tape around the tempered glass in a square shape and a crossed “X” within the square to prevent the glass fragments from shattering onto the victim(s).


Doors may be of the sliding, strap-hinge, or piano-hinge type. Some trucks (mail trucks, commercial utility trucks) may have no door at all on the driver`s side.


On tractor/trailer combinations, the roof on the tractor might be made of sheet metal, aluminum, or fiberglass and could easily be cut with an air chisel or reciprocating saw. Some tractors have a fiberglass air spoiler attached to the roof. This could also be cut away with an air chisel or reciprocating saw. Be careful not to cut any air-conditioning lines.


Trucks have two, three, or four batteries. The rescuer must find and disconnect all of them. First, shut off the engine, and then disconnect the batteries, the negative (ground) side first.


Most trucks use diesel fuel. Fuel tanks can carry as much as 150 gallons of fuel. Some trucks have two saddle tanks carrying 300 gallons of fuel. Trailers may have a separate fuel tank for a refrigeration unit. Some trucks use propane as an alternate fuel for running the refrigeration units.


Most large trucks have air brakes. Beware of the air canister below the frame, near the wheels. This canister has a large spring in it and is under tremendous pressure. Do not place yourself in front of or behind this canister, in case this spring flies out. The two air lines that supply the tractor brakes are on the back side of the tractor. The blue line is the regular air supply line; the red one is the emergency air supply line. Disconnecting these hoses locks the brakes on the trailer only.


If possible, ask the driver if any hazardous materials are in the truck. The driver must have a bill of lading (shipping papers) on the truck listing exactly what is being delivered. Normally, the bill of lading is located in a compartment on the driver`s door. You can also call the shipping company to obtain additional information. In most cases, if this truck is carrying more than 1,000 pounds of a hazardous material, it must be placarded. Beware, there are lots of exceptions to this placard rule.


On arrival, the officer-in-charge must size up the situation. Look for any clues that the vehicle may be carrying hazardous materials. Remember the six clues: (1) occupancy and/or location, (2) container shapes and sizes, (3) colors and markings, (4) placards and labels, (5) shipping papers, and (6) senses. You may have to rely on a pair of binoculars to size up properly from a safe distance. Assuming no hazardous materials are on the truck, the disentanglement/extrication phase can begin.

Have available a charged hoseline capable of delivering at least 100 gpm. A foam line is also a good idea, if available. Size-up should include but not be limited to the following: Is fuel leaking? Are there electric hazards? Are there victims? If so, how many and where are they located? What is the nature of injuries? Are ambulances needed? If so, how many? Is the cargo hazardous? What tools are needed? Is police assistance needed?


Tactical strategy should include the following: (1) size-up, (2) stabilization, (3) shutting off the engine, (4) disconnecting the batteries, (5) disentanglement, (6) extrication, and (7) scene termination.


As in any extrication, stabilization is of the utmost importance. Stabilization can be done in many ways and in any combination of ways. One way is to use box cribs made of plastic or wood. The minimum size should be 4 inches 2 4 inches 2 24 inches long. Using the two-crib-per-layer method and 4-inch 2 4-inch, a box could hold up to 24,000 pounds. Do not exceed twice the length of the cribbing–in this case, 48 inches would be the maximum height. Using 6-inch 2 6-inch, two per layer, the weight increases to 60,000 pounds. Adding just one more piece of cribbing to each layer to make three cribs per layer increases the weight to 48,000 pounds using 4-inch 2 4-inch, and to 120,000 pounds using 6-inch 2 6-inch.

Air bags should be used for lifting only, not stabilization. To estimate the weight of the vehicle, multiply the number of axles by 20,000 pounds. Another method that could be used in combination with a box crib is to special call a commercial tow truck to the scene. Many of these vehicles carry towing straps which, along with box cribs, provide an excellent method of stabilization.

A truck needs much more stabilization than a car when disentanglement/extrication operations must be undertaken. The truck must be fully stabilized before a rescuer can work on it. The dolly wheels on the trailer section of a tractor/trailer can be lowered for additional stabilization. Because of the height of many trucks, it is a good idea to call a flatbed truck to the scene so rescuers can work from it. An A-frame ladder could be used in place of the flatbed truck.


On most truck doors, the Nader pin is similar to that in cars. The door usually can be removed in the same way as a car door. Using a hydraulic spreader is a good start. Because of the door`s large size and weight, start at the window frame, and work your way down. If the Nader side is unattainable, then attack the hinge side. You can use a spreader or cut away the hinge with an air chisel. Be careful when the door is displaced. Its physical size and weight in themselves can be hazards. Watch your feet, and beware of the hydraulic spreader`s hoses.


When a victim is pinned by the steering wheel, several options are available. One option might be, if the truck is so equipped, to push the lever of a tilt steering wheel, which may give you four to six additional inches to work with–which may be all you need.

Another method is to cut the steering wheel spokes and/or steering wheel rim. If this is not possible, then use a steering wheel pull. Unlike a car incident where a steering wheel pull is not the first option most times, using this option with a truck is fine. Wrap one end of a chain around the steering post twice, and then connect it to a jaw of the open spreader. Place the second chain around a substantial point under the vehicle, possibly, an axle or tow hook. On many trucks, tow hooks are placed through or under the bumper. Now connect the second chain to the other opened spreader jaw. You must crib under the chains. Slowly close the spreader, watching the steering post for lift and any reaction of the dash. Lift only until the victim is free of the steering post and then the crib. On some trucks, the steering wheel pull cannot be used because of the steering post`s design.

Another option is a dash displacement. First, cut the A-post with a hydraulic cutter or an air chisel. Because of the strong construction of the A-posts on many trucks, several cuts into the A-post are needed to “weaken” the post. Next, place a hydraulic ram of correct length from the B-post to high on the A-post, and slowly open the ram, which will now displace the dash. Again, move the dash only until the victim is freed. At times, a combination of the hydraulic spreader and a ram or two rams may have to be used simultaneously.

To be proficient in heavy truck disentanglement/extrication, you must train on these vehicles. Contact local junkyards, trucking companies, and the like for old surplus trucks. You cannot appreciate the strength of these trucks until you work on them. You may also have to purchase additional tools and cribbing to handle extrications of heavy-duty trucks. Now is the time to find out if your department has the necessary tools to do the job correctly and safely. n


1. New York State Accident Victim Extrication Training (AVET) Manual.

2. Mosby-Carbusters “Big Trucks” Guide by Kidd & Czajkowski.

n GARY SIEGEL recently retired from the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) after 24 years of service. For the past five years, he was an extrication instructor at the FDNY Academy. He presently is an instructor at the Rockland County (NY) Fire Training Center in Pomona and is a New York State Accident Victim Extrication Training instructor.

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