Extrication Work Possible With Engine Company Tools
The Volunteers Corner
Great progress in the development of rescue tools has been made during the last few years and the result, as far as highway crashes are concerned, has been quicker and more efficient extrication of victims.
As hydraulic, air-powered and gasolinepowered rescue tools become standard equipment in more and more fire departments, we learn to depend on them, which is as it should be. But what about the engine company that is the first fire department unit at highway crash? Must it wait for a rescue company or ladder company with specialized tools?
In learning to depend on the virtues of the new rescue tools, we may tend to overlook the fact that a good deal of rescue work can be done with tools that are part of the standard equipment of an engine company. With these ordinary tools, work can get under way to extricate victims trapped in wreckage while waiting for the arrival of more sophisticated equipment. In some cases, extrication can be accomplished with engine company tools.
Axes for cutting: If extrication can be best accomplished by cutting out a section of the auto (or truck) roof, axes can be used when better equipment is not at hand. Punch a hole in the roof with the pick of a pick-head ax. Then put the cutting edge of the ax head as far into the hole as it will go and rap the ax head with a flat-head ax — or a maul if you have one. However, a flat-head ax will do nicely. Admittedly, this isn’t the easiest way to cut sheet metal, but it can be done this way reasonably well when there are not better tools around.
After an opening has been made, another standard piece of equipment — a salvage cover — can be used to cover the jagged edge over which the patient will be removed. Leaving the cover folded, stretch out just enough of it to cover the lower edge of the opening.
It isn’t standard equipment, but a cover that is only 6 or 8 feet wide and 10 or 12 feet long is handy to use for the situation just described. Small salvage covers can be made from worn-out regular size covers at no cost except for stitching a hem around the edges. A small cover can be used for a multitude of purposes, such as stuffing it around a smoke ejector in a window for more efficient smoke removal. Once you have a small cover, you’ll find many other uses for it.
Claw tools: Inasmuch as most vehicle extrication operations involve moving metal in one way or another, a claw tool can be useful in many situations. Doors on old cars that do not have the current DOTrequired security latches can often be pried open with a claw tool. The Halligan type has a flat blade and a spike that can provide the initial grip needed to start levering the door open. The the claw itself can be inserted into the opening.
Where a door or other metal has to be pried, don’t forget the old reliable — the crowbar. This tool can be used in conjuction with a claw tool either to provide additional leverage or to hold a gain in prying metal apart while you get a better grip with the claw tool.
If one of the first steps to be taken is removal of the windshield, claw tools with spikes and blades are useful in removing the molding to effect release of the windshield. A large screwdriver also can be useful in removing molding.
Bold cutters: Among the NFPA Standard No. 19 list of “optional equipment which might be desirable” to carry on pumpers are bolt cutters. These can be used to chew away the rubber or plastic of a steering wheel pinning a driver and then to cut the heavy wire rim. If it is advisable to remove a gasoline tank that is strapped to a car, the straps can be cut with bolt cutters.
Bolt cutters also are handy for cutting battery cables, thereby eliminating the chance of an electrical spark starting a fire in the wreckage.
The wheel chocks that all pumpers should carry can be used to stabilize a wrecked vehicle. They can keep a wreck from rolling and may be helpful in propping it up so that it does not shift during rescue operations and injure rescuers.
Pike poles: Although their use is limited for extrication, pike poles can be helpful. Just remember that the wooden shafts of pike poles will break easily when used as levers. They are meant primarily for pulling. They can be used for ripping out the headliner, the interior finish material of a car roof, before a power saw is used to cut open the roof — an operation that creates sparks that can start a fire in a headliner left in place.
The 14-foot roof ladder that is standard for pumpers can be used when a vehicle is on its side and opening a door on the upper side may be the quickest way to get to the victims. The ladder, placed against the car, will get you on top*of the vehicle safely. Don’t forget to assign a man to foot the ladder.
We haven’t mentioned first aid kits previously because they are not an extrication tool. However, first aid kits, standard equipment on fire apparatus, should of course be used immediately to stabilize the condition of accident victims.
Hopefully, before you have exhausted the extrication capabilities of the standard tools carried by your engine company, the victim will have been removed or the rescue unit will have arrived with specialized equipment.