Many fire service training institutes have developed basic auto extrication courses based on requirements found in National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1001, Standard for Fire Fighter Professional Qualifications; however, the course length is generally limited to 16 hours. These courses are usually divided into four to five hours of classroom presentation; the remainder of the time is used for completing practical evolutions. This is a short time frame within which to cover all aspects of extrication, including vehicle design and new technology, the 10-step extrication process, and all associated tools and tactics.

To ensure that students grasp the necessary knowledge and skills in this short time frame and will be able to execute extrication procedures, the instructor must make learning an active process. Students actively involved in the learning process retain more information and recall it more quickly because they have discussed it, thought about it, and applied it while participating in class.1

I have developed numerous applications of clear, strong, colorful visual aids, using several means of media that can be used to transfer knowledge and ideas from classroom examples to practical evolutions during training to real-world critiques. The success of these applications is based primarily on several learning principles, which include the following:

• Provide students the opportunity to apply knowledge and practice skills repeatedly shortly after the information has been introduced.

• The more often knowledge is used, the better it is retained and the quicker it becomes automatic. (1, 63)

• In all of their tasks, students must receive immediate, frequent feedback and reinforcement on their progress, creating opportunities for instant coaching, guidance toward the right answers, and positive recognition. (1, 64)

• There is scientific proof that between 75 and 83 percent of what people learn is acquired through what they see. (1, 68)

• Individuals retain about 10 percent of what they read, 20 percent of what they hear, 30 percent of what they see, 50 percent of what they see and hear together, 70 percent of what they say or repeat, and 90 percent of what they voice while doing what they are discussing. (1, 69)

• Instructors need to create relationships between new and old information. Explanations, discussions, and activities that are vivid and job-relevant help learners see relationships and links. (1, 63)


The use of visual aids and student interaction starts out in the classroom as part of a PowerPoint® presentation. You can center on images of motor vehicle collision scenes covering a wide array of topics from scene setup to specific tasks. Present the scenes as part of the presentation; then use an overlying color scheme (to be covered later) to reinforce various topics. You can animate the slide to show only one color at a time or allow the colors to remain once presented. That color scheme can then be transferred to the training ground and real vehicles, using corresponding colored spray paint. Each topic is presented individually and covered in depth before moving on to the next topic. By using several vehicles in the practical exercises, you can cover the topics and colors on the first vehicle and then let the students do the same for the remaining vehicles.

From the beginning of basic firefighter training, recruits are taught the importance of using an incident management system and its interactive components. Start with the color blue to display the common terms that should be used when referring to specific areas of the vehicle. This includes differentiating top from bottom, front from rear, driver side from passenger side, and lettering of the posts. Without using common terminology to reference specific areas of the vehicle during extrication, orders can become confusing. At the least, the orders will have to be clarified, taking up valuable time. At the worst, the rescuer may do something that has a negative impact on patient care or rescuer safety (photo 1).

Black is used to represent the hard points of a vehicle-those with structural integrity, such as the cage, side guard beams and door supports, frame rails, and a post cross bar. This makes it easier for the student to visualize where and how spreaders can be used to displace and distort parts of the vehicle. After painting these colors onto the vehicle, it makes it very apparent to the student where they must place cribbing. The cribbing should be an extension of the cage concept to the ground to fully support the vehicle. The cribbing is then placed directly underneath the black markings (photo 2).

Yellow corresponds to the soft points, the vehicle’s areas of weak support or integrity. Photo 3 depicts the vehicle’s outer skin, which is either light-duty sheet metal or composite material, depending on the vehicle’s design. Other areas with little strength can include interior trim material, crumple zone areas, and any damaged part of a vehicle that no longer has structural integrity.

Red signifies the danger areas (photo 4). The areas would depend on the vehicle; they could include airbag locations, hydraulic struts, shock-absorbing bumpers, battery locations, and fuel lines. External hazards in and around the vehicle can be marked, including downed lines, fuel leaks, and hazardous-materials containers. Red can also be used to reinforce safe positioning of the rescuer in relation to particular tools.

Finally, this information should be linked to future department and company training sessions and formal/informal critiques. With an LCD projector, you can project a digital image as part of a Power Point® presentation or directly from a digital camera onto a dry erase board. Using dry erase markers and the same color patterns, members can participate in displaying the colors with associated topics. If your department does not have a scanner or digital camera and an LCD projector, you can achieve the same results by making a color copy of a picture on an overhead and displaying it with an overhead projector onto the dry erase board.


Once the painting is complete, fill water bottles approximately halfway and place them on the vehicle in several areas (photo 5). This reinforces several ideas. A student can see the effects of cribbing, when used both correctly and incorrectly. The student can observe the reaction from the use of specific tools, such as the constant vibration of a reciprocating saw, the shock of a spreader to displace the door, the jarring from striking tools, and so on.



A spreader or ram works on the principle of moving, displacing, or distorting weaker parts of the vehicle using stronger parts as a base from which to push. To help students anticipate the direction of movement when using a spreader, tape an antenna on the crossbar of the spreader to represent a parallel line in relation to the movement of the spreader tips. You can reference this application with the colors already discussed. In photo 6, the weaker side is the dash because of the relief cut to the A-post; the stronger side is the stable base where the cribbing was placed. Once you begin to open the spreader, the dash will move in an up-and-out motion exhibited by the antenna.



Another technique involves placing a dummy in a vehicle to represent a victim. It is suggested that all trauma patients with a cervical spinal column injury or with a mechanism of injury having the potential to cause cervical spinal injury be immobilized at the scene and during transport using one of several methods. One method for ensuring that the patient is moved in an appropriate manner is to move the patient in a straight line from the where the head and spine are situated. To help students understand this concept, place a commode plunger on the top of the head to show the direction best suited to keep alignment. In photo 7, the student can see that the best-case scenario would be to remove the patient vertically, keeping the spine in line. If the patient were lying across the front seat, it might be best to complete a side-removal evolution and remove the patient out the side, keeping the long axis of the victim in line.



The end result of applying the above-discussed concepts is that the student defines and completes the task, which, in this case, involves the door’s being displaced for disentanglement purposes (photo 8). The group leader gives the command to remove the front driver’s side door. The student clearly understands the directive based on common terminology as defined by the blue paint. The student has identified the strong points of the vehicle by the black paint and determines where to place the spreaders. For this example, the proper placement would be between the A-post and the door supports. The cribbing was previously placed underneath the black area on the A-post to properly crib the vehicle in this position. The red paint illustrates the hazard areas for the rescuer. The red line to the left of the student’s feet is the “gator’s mouth” area; the semicircle to the right is the projected path of the door if it is displaced. The antenna shows that, with the spreader in this position, the door should be displaced from the vehicle down and out. As the door is displaced, the student can notice the water bottle on the hood and the reaction this task will have on the vehicle. Combining all of these applications allows the student to reinforce classroom topics, apply them to a vehicle during practical exercises, and then carry out the task in a logical process.

• • •

These methods are inexpensive, fun, interactive, and very effective. They can provide a means for initial vehicle extrication training and subsequent refresher training. The training potential of these methods is limited only by time and the number of pictures taken at emergency scenes. These applications apply to other types of vehicles used for extrication training, such as school buses, large trucks, and so on. They allow the student to apply knowledge repeatedly in a short time frame with positive reinforcement or corrective measures from the instructor. In addition, the concepts are applied using as many senses as possible and with a better understanding of how all the ideas are related.


1. Fire and Emergency Services Instructor. (Stillwater, Okla.: Fire Protection Publications, Oklahoma State University, 1999).

LES BAKER, a 10-year veteran of the fire service, is an engineer with the City of Hartsville (SC) Fire Department and a volunteer for Darlington County (SC) Fire District. He has an associate of fire science degree from Pikes Peak Community and is pursuing a bachelor of fire science degree from the University of Maryland. He is an adjunct instructor with the South Carolina Fire Academy and is a member of various professional associations.


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