Extrication of Auto Victims
What are some of the quickest and safest methods of extricating victims from a wrecked auto and what are some of the hazards that can be avoided?
Because of their experience on some of Connecticut’s most heavily traveled highways and the reputation they have acquired through effective work at many crash scenes, members of the Rescue Company of the Wethersfield, Conn., Fire Department have demonstrated their methods at state and regional fire service training schools under the direction of Deputy Chief Clinton L. Hughes.
At a one-day training session at Willimantic. Conn., they simulated the extrication of a victim from a four-door station wagon. Hughes said that the first two things that must be done before attempting to open up a wrecked vehicle are to keep the vehicle from moving as the rescue job proceeds and to have a charged hose line ready to guard against fire. The Wethersfield men like to have portable high expansion foam nozzle at hand in the event gasoline flashes.
The wreck is immobilized through the use of strategically placed wheel chocks off the rescue truck or fire apparatus or the use of wood blocks carried as part of the rescue equipment. It might be necessary, he added, to use rope to tie a wreck to a highway fence post, a utility pole or a tree. Even where there is no danger of the vehicle sliding, it is chocked so that it will not rock as hand and power tools are used.
With a car on its side, a folding ladder or a short ladder is placed against the vehicle so that a man can try to open the topside doors. If a door can be opened, rope is used to tie it in an open position. Hughes explained that rope is used instead of a prop such as a pike pole or claw tool because props are easily dislodged. Then the door might slam on a hand or arm of a rescue man.
Generally, the quickest means of entering a wreck is by breaking and entering through the rear window, which is made of tempered glass and will crumble into small pieces. After cleaning out all fragments left in the frame, one rescue man enters the vehicle to assess the condition of the occupants. A second man stands at the rear window to relay reports and requests for rescue tools or first aid supplies from the rescuer inside. If there are not enough men in the rescue team, then the outside man also will have to go for tools and supplies.
“You can use all the men you have available,” Hughes emphasized. “There are a lot of things to be done at once.”
Another preliminary job is disconnecting the battery to prevent any sparks or short circuits during the rescue operations. The quickest way to do this is to use bolt cutters to cut the battery cables. But as Hughes pointed out, if time and battery tools are available, the clamps can be removed from the battery terminals.
If the gasoline tank is accessible and is held in place by steel straps, as most tanks are, the straps are cut with bolt cutters and the tank is removed. The tank is then taken to a spot some distance from the wreck and downhill so that no fumes will flow toward the scene of operations.
The need to immediately account for every person in a wreck was stressed by Lieutenant John J. McAuliffe of Wethersfield. In a crash, an infant can easily wind up in a corner of a car underneath an adult and, although uninjured, die of suffocation, McAuliffe warned.
“Make sure you determine the number of occupants of a car and then search for all of them,” he said.
While providing first aid, the inside rescuer reassures the victim and prepares him for the noise of steel being cut and pried. When advisable, ear plugs can be placed in a victim’s ears to muffle the noise of power saws slicing through steel.
Using rotary saw
Before a rotary saw is used to open a roof, all of the headliner is stripped away from the steel by the inside rescuer. This prevents the cloth and any flammable insulation from catching fire from sparks off the cutting blade.
The hole cut in the roof of an auto should be large enough for the rescue work to be done conveniently. When Lieutenant William Klatt demonstrated the use of a rotary saw, he called attention to the desirability of selecting, when possible, a cutting direction that would keep the flow of sparks going away from any fire hazard in the wreck. During the cutting, Klatt was careful to keep the saw operating at its full rpm by keeping the blade from binding.
The Wethersfield rescue men also used an electric reciprocating saw to cut the roof, and they showed that the saw worked easier when another man pushed against the roof near the cut to keep the steel from vibrating excessively. Another tool used to cut steel was an electric rotary hammer fitted with a chisel. Although the cut it made was more jagged than the cuts made with the other tools, it did a fast and effective job.
As Hughes explained to the extrication training class, no one tool is best for every job and the rescue men have to decide which tool will work best in a specific situation. He also mentioned that men in his department have used the chisel-fitted rotary hammer to make holes in floors for cellar pipes.
Ax used to cut steel
But these power tools are not vital, although they are extremely useful, in cutting steel in autos. To show that an engine company that reached a crash scene first need not wait for a rescue truck with special equipment before opening up a wreck, the Wethersfield men used an ax to cut a car roof. After piercing the steel with a swing of a flathead ax, the ax blade was held in the slit as it was pounded with a sledgehammer. After this demonstration, a hatchet and a 4-pound hammer were used in the same way successfully.
After the cuts were completed on the two sides and top of the roof opening, the steel was peeled down to the ground as the car rested on one side. Rubber insulating sleeves used by power companies to place over hot wires while men are working around them were then fitted to the rough edges of the roof opening. These sleeves protect both rescuers and crash victims from cuts as they move through or around the roof opening. At the same time, part of a discarded salvage cover was placed so that one end was inside the car and the other was beyond the metal peeled down from the roof. This provided protection not only at the bottom of the roof hole, but also along the edges of the cut-out roof section that was bent down to the ground.
The “victim” was wedged against the steering wheel, so a section of the rim was cut out by nipping at it with bolt cutters until the plastic covering was chewed away and the ring could be cut.
Spine board used
Because the “victim” was presumed to have a back injury, he was strapped to a short spine board with as little body movement as possible while he was still in the car. Then he was eased onto a long spine board that had been placed as close as possible to “him” through the opening that had been cut. After his body was on the long spine board, he was removed from the scene.
In discussing extrication procedures, Hughes explained that when a person’s foot is trapped, sometimes the easiest way to release him is to unlace his shoe and work his foot out of the shoe. This is often the situation with truck drivers who wear high laced boots, Hughes commented.
He also suggested that when a foot is trapped by a pedal, a rescuer should consider unbolting the pedal as that might be quicker than cutting the pedal or bending it.
Among other operations discussed was the removal of windshields. Unlike the rear windows, which are made of tempered glass that will crumble when struck, windshields are made of safety glass, which is difficult to break out because of the lamination material in the glass sandwich. Therefore, the Wethersfield rescue men recommended the use of small pinch bars and screwdrivers to remove the molding. Then the windshield, or what is left of it after a crash, can be removed as a unit.
Electric door locks
Autos with electric door locks frustrate entry by wedging and prying when they are locked. Before anything else is done, the doors should be unlocked by operating the electric controls, which often are in the glove compartment. It was also pointed out that the vehicle must have battery power to operate the lock controls.
The manual door locks are not a difficult problem. The Rescue Company men showed how to pull off a door handle with a Halligan, or similar, tool and insert a screwdriver in the lock hole to release the door catch.
Locked auto trunks were opened by placing the pointed end of a Halligan tool on the cylinder and then driving out the cylinder by hitting the Halligan tool with a sledgehammer. With this method, the trunk lid is not damaged and only a new lock is needed to restore the lid to normal operation.
Although all kinds of conditions result from vehicle crashes, Hughes pointed out that knowledge of basic procedures, familiarity with the capability of available tools and thoughtful planning of the rescue operations add up to success.