At an extrication incident, knowing a variety of techniques to accomplish the tasks confronting us on arrival ensures success. If one method doesn’t work, we can change gears and move on to the next one. If this tool doesn’t do the job, try that one.

Extrication techniques have advanced a long way since the days when we attached a chain to the chassis, brought it over the hood, and wrapped it around the steering column. When I was a young firefighter in a South Bronx truck company, our extrication tools were a hack saw, a car jack, an oil can, and a window saw. Throw in some chains, and we were equipped for extrication operations. With some difficulty, we did manage to perform extrication with these tools, making do with what we had. Eventually, all ladder companies received hydraulic extrication tools; but in the meantime, we did extrication manually. Today, just about all rescue companies and ladder companies use hydraulic tools dedicated for extrication.

Although the dashboard displacement technique described below is not new, it is another useful tool for your toolbox. This method displaces the dashboard extremely well and provides EMS workers lots of room to work in. At this point in the extrication, it is assumed that the door has been removed already and members on-scene are ready to displace the dash.

Before starting extrication, remember to “read the wreck.” Create a plan of attack before you start using the tools, and designate one person to be in charge and give the orders to the extrication tool operator. Having more than one person give instructions to the tool operator accomplishes nothing, creates mayhem, and erodes the confidence we are trying to instill in the victim, whom we are there to help.

Make the first cut just above the rocker panel below the “A” post. Take your cutter and get a good deep bite, using the tool’s maximum ability (photo 1). Next, make another cut six to eight inches above the first (photo 2). On newer vehicles, because of construction considerations, both cuts need to be between the door hinges.

Photo 1


Photo 2

The next step is to cut the “A” post. Before doing so, peel away the post’s interior trim to reveal the location of any air bag canisters. I personally have never cut a canister. From the information I have gathered, it will not cause a massive explosion and shatter your tool. Either way, I would avoid cutting the canister if at all possible. Once you know where not to cut, chose your spot and cut. When actually displacing the dashboard, sometimes the “A “post will bind as a result of the near zero clearance. If this occurs or if you have the time, make two cuts on the “A” post, and remove a small section to eliminate the possibility of binding (photo 3).

Photo 3

Moving forward to the fender area, make a cut through the fender into the hood (photo 4). Here you are trying to cut the support beam that runs from the passenger compartment to the headlight area inside the engine compartment. This part of the “crumple zone” (designed to absorb impact in a crash and protect the occupants) may require two or even three cuts to sever this component. As you practice this technique, you will become more familiar with the vehicle construction and know where and when these cuts are necessary.

Photo 4

Before cutting the windshield with a windshield or reciprocating saw, apply windshield tape to the glass to cut down on the glass dust, and remember to cover the victim. A reciprocating saw will make quick work of this cut. When placing either saw, leave enough room so the blade does not bind or bend on the dashboard. By cutting here you will avoid having glass cracking and shattering (arrows, photo 5) when you do the dash displacement.

Photo 5

Now, using the spreaders, clamp down on the cut portion (between the two cuts already made) of the car below the “A” post (photo 6). Close the spreader tightly on this section, and bend it 90 degrees to the outboard side, making this flap of metal perpendicular to the rocker panel (photo 7). This may take two people to accomplish, depending on the vehicle construction; moving the tool this way avoids shaking the vehicle and the victim. This operation requires slow, steady pressure. Shaking the vehicle could compromise the stability of the victim and cause greater harm to that person, not to mention compromising the vehicle’s stability.

Photo 6


Photo 7

Into the gap created by bending the piece below the “A” post, insert the spreaders (photo 8). Notice the step chock inserted below the rocker panel directly beneath the spreader. This is so you do not tear the rocker panel and provides a firm base from which to work. The step chock is upside down, so you can slip it in and make it snug to maximize the lift.

Photo 8

The lift is in progress (photo 9). On a lot of vehicles today, the dash is comprised mostly of plastics, with a metal support system beneath it. If in displacing the dash, you discover that you are not getting the required lift needed and the dash is peeling away, reposition the tool a little deeper, and try to hit on one of the metal supports. Once your tool grabs a metal support under the dash, the support will give way (photo 10). With the dash displaced, you can leave the tool in place and move out of the way so the EMS personnel can do their job. The spreader is perpendicular to the work area and gives them lots of room to work, use a backboard, and get additional personnel involved as needed. Compare the dashboard’s position in photo 10 with its position in photo 7. There’s a whole lot more room to work in there now!

Photo 9


Photo 10

Finally, if the brake pedal is in the way and perhaps entangling the victim’s foot, even though you may have a rebar cutter or a “lobster claw” to cut it away, you may be unable to put that tool in place to use it. In photos 11 and 12, a piece of webbing is slipped over the brake pedal and twisted so it will hold opposite the brake pedal bar. Once this is wrapped on the pedal, two members apply a steady pulling pressure and bend the brake pedal bar to give rescuers access to the victim’s feet. This is a quick and surefire way to move a pedal out of the way to release an entrapped foot. It may not be applicable in every situation, but it’s a tool in your box you can pull out when you need it.

Photo 11


Photo 12

• • •

The only way to develop proficiency in extrication is to practice, and only once every other month isn’t enough. Practice, practice, practice. The more you drill on this technique, the better you will be at it. Remember, in the fire service, there are no “time outs.” Know your job, and know it well.

ANTHONY TRICARICO is a captain with the Fire Department of New York.

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