COIN-OPERATED WASHER AND DRYER RESCUE OPERATIONS
Every urban neighborhood has areas where people wash their clothes, ranging from laundromats in commercial buildings to laundry rooms in apartment buildings. Coin-operated washing and drying machines are lined up using every square inch of space in these areas. Security is a major issue in these occupancies, since money is required to operate the machines. Each machine is either coin-operated or operated by paper currency. The coin slide and coin/ currency safe are the two major components that require safeguards to ensure the machines stay operable. The safeguards are types of protection systems that usually consist of an awning made of metal and security brackets and boxes that are welded, riveted, screwed, or even padlocked to the machine. A recent incident involved a coin slide and safe.
Not unfamiliar to any apartment building is the laundry room. It may be located in the basement, on the mezzanine level, or even on the top floor of the occupancy. These rooms are very noisy and warm from the operation of the washing and drying machines. It was in one of these rooms that a woman had her finger entangled in the slot on the coincollecting mechanism.
The coin slide/collecting mechanism itself is a lot like a guillotine. When a coin is inserted in the slot, pressure is applied inward, causing the guillotine to slide within its tracks and push the coins into the coin safe. By the looks of the situation, we thought it would be over in minutes. The victim had been trapped close to an hour before the fire department was notified. Her finger was swollen and had a slight laceration, which had been caused by her trying to force her finger out of the assembly. She was in some pain but was more embarrassed because of the number of bystanders in the laundry room. The situation, unique to us, was about to become the first of many coin-slide incidents in our careers.
Our first action was to make the victim feel relaxed. We cleared the room of bystanders, a chair was brought in for her to sit on, and we established a first-name rapport, which is critical in many rescue operations. The victim’s entangled finger was first wrapped in an ice pack to help reduce some of the swelling. While the ice was being applied, one of the bystanders volunteered to let us have some of her liquid laundry detergent. The victim’s finger and the coin slide were soaked with the liquid, the ice was removed, and we carefully applied pressure to the finger and made circular motions downward. However, we were unable to release her finger from the assembly. A second attempt proved useless. We tried another method of extrication, without using tools: wrapping the victim’s finger with thread to reduce the swelling. These attempts were abandoned when the victim said it was too painful.
A “simple” extrication procedure was turning into a long, drawn-out affair. The next step we took was to ensure that power had been shut down to the machine we were about to dismantle. This particular coinslide mechanism had a protective awning encompassing it, which was in our way. We used an air cut-off saw (i.e., muffler saw, wizzer saw) to cut the awning off the coin safe, exposing the victim’s finger, which was still wrapped in ice and protected during the cutting procedure.
The next step involved careful consideration, since the victim’s finger was in close proximity to any of our next cuts. Still using the saw, we made two cuts in a “V” pattern on the opposite side of the coin slide, away from the victim’s finger. The notch taken out of the material proved to be the key element in the extrication. Due to the possibility of injury to the victim, we did not use the saw for the final cut. Instead, we used a large bolt cutter to make a final cut in line with the circular coin slot where the victim’s finger was trapped. Once cut, the material cracked into the hole and some of the pressure on the victim’s finger was relieved. We placed a halligan tool’s forked end on the coin slide and pried toward the “V”-notch cut, which in turn gave plenty of clearance for the victim’s finger to be released.
LESSONS LEARNED AND REINFORCED
- First aid must be given top priority during any extrication; additional units such as a paramedic unit may be needed.
- In long extrication procedures,make every effort to reassure the victim. In this rescue, the first-name basis between rescuers and victim helped the victim gain trust and confidence in her rescuers.
- Disconnect all power to the machine being dismantled.
- Be prepared for the many types of security devices on these machines and the different grades, thicknesses, and types of materials that protect the coins and currency.
- These machines are bulky and sometimes must be moved. Care should be taken when moving them, due to the victim’s awkward position.
- A thorough knowledge of all the rescue tools on your apparatus will enable you to perform successful extrications.
- We employed many tools at this incident that proved to be ineffective. First, we employed a ring cutter, but the jaw opening width and cutting wheel could not open far enough to grip the coin slide. Our next attempt was a variable-speed reciprocal saw. It seemed to be a good, offensive approach but proved useless, mainly because of the lack of control the operator has over the saw blade while cutting. These blades also create a great deal of vibration and sometimes bind and jump when cutting through two different materials, which was the case with the coin-slide track design. Also, the possibility of generating heat exists when cutting any metals, further endangering the victim. Finally, using a hack saw proved to be too slow a process because there was not enough clearance between the washing machine and the coin slide to use the w hole cutting blade. The hack saw is a hand tool that must be operated with smooth, repetitive strokes at the same speed while cutting. Variations in cutting cause vibrations, binding, and bending in the material being cut. In this case, the victim complained that such vibrations felt painful to her lacerated finger.
- These areas are usually occupied by many people. They may include a harassing bystander or a helpful bystander. Don’t rule out the possibility that securing the scene and controlling the incident may require police presence.
- laundry rooms have many types of power supplies. Your own tools and power supplies are the most reliable and safest choices—-for both the rescuer and victim.
- Laundry areas are noisy and warm. Machines should be shut down so rescue efforts can run more smoothly. Opening the doors on many of these machines is all that is necessary to stop them.
Rescue operations involving coinoperated machinery are not as uncommon as you might think. They require time, patience, and expertise. They also require smaller, more basic tools. Use your knowledge and expertise, and you’ll have a successful extrication.