Photos by John Hund.

MM, interpreted as man in a machine, is one of the codes used in our response record log. MM, fortunately, is one of the unusual or odd jobs that we in the City of New York Fire Department Rescue Company No. 2 respond to infrequently. This type of response usually is associated with industrial accidents involving a hand or arm that has been caught in various types of machinery. It has been estimated that approximately 90 percent of these accidents generally are attributed to clothing or cleaning rags getting snagged in the machinery and pulling a hand or arm into the machine. The majority of our infrequent responses to MMs involve printing presses.

Many of the victims refuse to acknowledge whether they contributed to the accident by trying to clear an obstruction or having their hands or arms in the wrong place at the wrong time while the machine was still running. Safety procedures, usually written in large, legible print and posted in the work area, instruct workers always to shut down the machinery prior to performing adjustments or attempting to clear an obstruction. Many machines have builtin safety features to help prevent these types of accidents, but w e have found that these safety features sometimes are disconnected.


Our tour one late w inter day started off with a routine response for a pot left on the stove. We were backing into our quarters after returning from that response when the computer printed out an MM response for our unit. It read, “Nonstructural, man’s arm stuck in printing press.” We were nearing the location of the incident when a radio transmission clearly verified its seriousness. “Brooklyn, inform the rescue that a worker’s arm, up to his shoulder, is trapped in a printing press, and ask what’s their ETA.”

As we entered the turn-of-the-century building, we were met by the incident commander, who quickly updated us on the situation and the actions taken prior to our arrival. As I approached the printing press, I could see the trapped worker in a sitting position with his left arm up to the shoulder completely entrapped in the printing press. He was conscious and coherent (to his fellow workers, since he did not speak English). One of our first problems, in fact, was overcoming the language barrier.

The printing press stood almost six feet high and was about six feet long. It had been built sometime in the late ’50s or early ’60s and was referred to as a “Cadillac” in the industry. Its structural integrity and components’ quality w ould test not only our expertise but our array of specialized tools as well.

We gathered as much vital information as possible to formulate a plan of action. We determined that a number of positive factors would assist us in the operation but also noted that some negative factors would add to the time it would take us to free the worker safely.

On the plus side, we had an engine and ladder company at the scene (their assistance played an important role in the operation). Also, emergency medical personnel were on the scene, and a paramedic quickly sized up the seriousness of the injuries and started an IV on the worker.

Standard operating procedures call for shutting down the power to the machinery and stationing a member at the power source to prevent an accidental restoration of the power that could further injure the victim or possibly harm the rescuers. The incident commander already had ordered the power to be shut down and assigned a firefighter to ensure that it would not be restored.

The next SOP, communicating with the owner, manager, supervisor, or responsible person in charge of the shop, presented our first major obstacle: No one would own up to being in charge or admit that they understood our inquiries.

“How about a mechanic or person responsible for the repair and maintenance of the press?” we asked again. This time one of the workers explained in broken English that the boss was not at the scene and that they didn’t have a mechanic or maintenance man. When they had problems with the machinery, a mechanic from another shop was called in to repair it

“Does anyone know how to disassemble the rollers?” we then asked. A negative response again. We had to overcome these obstacles quickly if we were going to free the worker.

Some rollers have a yellow collar and are held together with an easily accessible bolt in case they have to be disassembled. The rollers involved in this accident had no such removable bolt, making operations more difficult.


The worker’s arm was caught between two sets of rollers, one of them in the center of the press. At first glance it appeared that it would be virtually impossible to reach or release the center roller unless we disassembled the machinery. Continual monitoring of the worker’s medical condition by a paramedic gave muchneeded reassurance that the worker was holding up, giving us some time to figure out the quickest and safest way to free him.

We decided on a two-sided attack because of the limited working area around the press. One rescue team worked directlv above the victim while the other team worked from the back of the machine toward the worker’s hand. By working to free the rollers from the top of the press, we hoped to work our way down into the center to reach the roller that appeared almost impossible to reach. We stretched and charged a handline, since rescuers used power saws on the rollers on top and to the rear of the press.

Rescuers working around the victim did not have the luxury of using power saws because of space limitations and the close proximity of the victim. Remember, we proceeded this way after every effort to find out how to disassemble the press proved futile. In many of our previous experiences with MMs, we had had the assistance of a mechanic or maintenance personnel.

Easily accessible rollers on top of press.These rollers are not as easy to remove.Rescuers had to cut through two or three steel rods on top of the rollers, used for support, to reach the rollers pinning the victim.

As we worked to remove the rollers, we found that they were steel core and had a diameter of 1 ½ to two inches. Attempting to cut through the center roller proved to be a great challenge. We were able to cut all the rollers except the center roller, which was in an area that was extremely difficult to reach.

Rescuers working near the victim had cut some of the rollers with a cutting torch, which we found to be the most effective and versatile of the tools we used. The torch operator positioned himself so that the torch could be placed into the center of the press and he could operate the controls while another rescuer directed his movement from the side by reaching in between the rollers. These actions required great teamwork, as one rescuer became the “eyes and ears” of the other rescuer operating the controls.

The charged handline was used to extinguish small fires resulting from sparks from the saws and torch igniting paper and materials around the press. After cutting through one end of the last remaining roller, we knew we were almost there.

We informed emergency medical personnel that we would be able to free the victim’s arm after one more torch cut so that they would be prepared to administer additional medical treatment as soon as the victim was free. (7Vote: See “Medical Treatment at Collapse Rescue” by Dr. Joseph A. Barbera in the December 1990 issue of Fire Engineering. It explains crush-syndrome injuries and their potential for disaster if not treated properly.)

A precision-like cut was made in the last roller; the victim’s entire arm was freed and gently removed from the press. Emergency medical personnel provided additional medical care and prepared the victim for removal to a major trauma center. Microsurgeons successfully reattached the severed sections of the arm, and the worker is responding to therapy and is expected to recover.


What at first had seemed an unsurmountable obstacle, ensuring the successful release of the victim’s arm, was accomplished through a team effort that included the rescue company’s expertise, ingenuity, and specialized tools and equipment. MMs are not your everyday run-of-the-mill responses.

Take the following information and incorporate it into your operating plans, making adjustments where necessary’.

  • Size up the situation.
  • Call for medical personnel immediately.
  • Gather information: Solicit as much information about the machinery as possible.
  • Seek out a mechanic or person familiar with the workings of the machine.
  • Shut the power down. Have a member stationed at the power source to prevent restoration of power.
  • Disassemble the machinery, when possible.
  • Support the victim mentally (with calming words) and physically during the operation.
  • Sometimes the only practical option may be to reverse the machinery, if it is possible. Before doing this, consider the consequences.
  • If the machinery or component entrapping a limb is small enough and can be completely removed, remove the victim and the entrapping equipment to a hospital.
  • Inquire as to the flammability of inks, paints, or other materials used in the plant.
  • When using spark-producing tools/equipment, have a charged handline standing by.
  • Don’t be afraid to adjust your plan of action when necessary.
  • Listen to suggestions.
  • Use your greatest resource, the expertise and ingenuity’ of your rescue personnel*

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