On Friday, June 10, 2005, at 1800 hours, Lockport Township (IL) firefighters were dispatched to a construction site for a report of a subject injured in a construction accident. An engine, an ALS ambulance, and a battalion chief were initially dispatched. On arrival, crews found a trencher type construction vehicle (photo 1) with one person pinned between the trencher arm and the vehicle. On further examination, it was found that the patient’s lower leg had been caught by the unprotected auger (photo 2) and the vehicle, causing the victim to sustain a compound fracture. The vehicle had been shut down prior to fire department arrival. Fearing greater injury to the patient and the possibility of stored energy in the vehicle, it was decided not to restart the vehicle and to attempt to dislodge the leg in that fashion.


Anticipating a prolonged extrication, the battalion chief requested a medical helicopter and special-called the truck company. As crews set up the hydraulic tools and began patient care, another size-up of the vehicle revealed that a small bolt held the auger to the drive shaft (circle, photo 3). Once this was discovered, it was decided to disassemble the auger using hand tools instead of hydraulic tools. Immediately, crews went to work and in a short time removed the bolt and the auger, freeing the patient’s leg. Because the total extrication took less than 10 minutes, the helicopter was no longer needed and was cancelled; ground transport to the hospital would take only five to seven minutes. The patient was packaged and transported to the hospital 20 minutes after the initial call and was expected to make a full recovery.


This type of incident emphasizes the need for those who are or may be involved in such rescue operations to train on unique situations and scenarios.

Using hydraulic tools to remove machinery components often may not work, given the construction features of these vehicles. The auger was attached to a solid case-hardened two-inch shaft that most likely would have shattered the cutters or broke the spreaders. A “slice pack” torch was en route with the truck company, but using this would have been a delicate operation, which, given the small space in which to work, most likely would have burned the victim by conducted or radiated heat, even if a hose stream were applied. Ultimately, disassembling the auger was the correct decision.

This incident also demonstrated the value of continual size-up and the flexibility to change tactics and strategies when an initial plan of attack does not pan out or a better one presents itself. Recognizing the machinery’s unique construction and components also worked to the crews’ advantage. What could have turned into a long and possibly dangerous operation was quickly and successfully concluded. Waiting until the incident happens is no time to experiment with what will and won’t work.

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Not every incident is the same, and we all have had or will have an incident that requires us to change tactics several times before reaching a positive outcome. The key is to anticipate and react to obstacles before they arise and to address them without harming the rescuer or patient or delaying patient removal while formulating an alternative rescue plan.

MICHAEL J. LOPINA is a career firefighter/paramedic with the Lokcport Township (IL) Fire District and the lead instructor for vehicle and machinery rescue at the Southwest United Fire District Fire Academy in Darien, Illinois.

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