By Raul Angulo
When the bell hits, you never know what you’re going to respond to. That’s part of the excitement about being a firefighter. Whatever you’re destined to respond to, it’s going to involve some quick problem-solving and being creative with all the tools you’re carrying on the apparatus. When I was the captain of Engine 33, we got a call to a kid stuck in a tree. Sounded pretty straight forward – throw a ground ladder and assist the kid out of the tree and down the ladder. That wasn’t what we found. This kid was really “stuck” in the tree. (See Photo 1 above)
The boy was around six-years-old and slipped while climbing down a large tree. He wedged his left knee into a “V” where the two trunks of the tree split off. Since his right leg couldn’t reach the ground, he was forced to hug the tree in order to support his body and limit the pressure exerted on his left knee. By the time we arrived, he was shaking and exhausted from holding that position. The first thing I did was get Prezel, my tallest firefighter, behind the boy to support his weight, allowing him to relax his grip and rest. Then we turned our attention to the knee. The patella (knee cap) had already developed some swelling and it was really wedged in there. Photo 1 is deceiving–it looks like we could shimmy the knee up and out, and we could have, but not without causing more pain and abrasions to the skin. The tree bark as you can see was extremely rough. And you know who would get the blame if we made the child cry–me!
Whenever you’re dealing with wood, it’s natural for firefighters to think saws and axes. Notice the ax in against the tree in Photo 2. Originally, we thought we could chip away at the bark with the ax to gain some space, but it was a little risky. Using such a large tool could also scare the kid. For all he knows, you may be wanting to chop his leg off. Obviously, the chainsaw was out of the question, and any major cutting would give heartburn to the city arborist–someone who would want a report regardless.
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Brainstorming for a solution, we thought if we had a lubricant, we could lather up the knee and work it loose. I thought of going to a neighbor’s house to for some liquid dish washing soap but there wasn’t a house in the immediate area. Then Chris, my driver suggested we use Class A foam solution. At that time, all Seattle engines were equipped with a portable Class A or AFFF foam system that had a built-in eductor and attached to the end of the 1.75-inch (44.5 mm). There is a 2 ½ gallon reservoir for the foam which has a soapy slippery texture. The device is visible at the bottom of Photo 4.
We used trauma shears to cut the pant leg to expose as much as the knee as possible. Then we poured a generous amount of Class A foam all over the exposed skin and rubbed the liquid all around the knee. After a few seconds and gentle pressure, the knee slipped out of the tree. We were surprised how well the Class A foam actually worked as a skin lubricant. (Photo 4)
So, Trick of the Trade: Remember, if you need something slippery to lubricate or break down the friction of an object or tool you’re trying to free up, Class A foam works great! It’s non-flammable, doesn’t pollute the environment, and you have plenty of it on the rig.
Everyone was a happy camper. Little Malik was freed from the tree without a tear and had three new heroes, Chris (pictured on left) got to wow the crew by coming up with a great solution, and I didn’t have to write a letter to the city arborist.
RAUL A. ANGULO is Captain Emeritus of Ladder Co. 6 and retired from the Seattle (WA) Fire Department with over 35 years of dedicated service. He is an international author and instructor and serves on the advisory board for Fire Apparatus and Emergency Equipment magazine.