Municipal Response to Extrication Incidents Involving Military Vehicles and Equipment

By Ken Fowler

All departments respond to and have events that are deemed low frequency/high impact. A municipal response to any event involving military vehicles or equipment could fall within this category, but that doesn’t mean first responders don’t need training and knowledge should such an incident occur in our given response area. Departments that have military installations within their borders or agencies that are first due in a mutual-aid scenario are some that might be affected by such incidents. This might also include departments that area located between two military installations and sit within specific convoy routes, or departments that simply have a major highway or interstate within their jurisdiction. Some other considerations include the local government and private sector use of Department of Defense (DoD) military equipment. No one is really immune from this type of event taking place.

The questions that arise from a discussion such as this are:

  • Can this really happen?
  • Is this type of response really that different?
  • Extrication is extrication, isn’t it?
  • Since its military equipment they will handle this situation, right?
  • Do I really need to worry about training for a low-frequency event?
  • Wait…if this does happen, do I need any specialized equipment?

Can This Really Happen?

The simple, most obvious answer is yes. Military vehicles are not merely traveling the roads and highways of the base, where everything is contained. Anyone who lives or works in and around military bases can attest to the fact that military vehicles and equipment are a common sight traveling the local highways and roads. Accidents involving this type of equipment or vehicles are not just restricted to a couple of military vehicles crashing into each other. Although this can happen and sometimes does, the focus here is on what happens when this type of equipment is involved in an accident with a common-type passenger or civilian vehicle. At the majority of military institutions, when something like this type of event occurs it is handled by the on base fire departments that are part of the Department of Defense (DoD) system. Although our DoD brothers and sisters have knowledge and specialized training involving military vehicles and equipment, can this be said for the rest of us who might be responding to such an event outside of the confines of the base?

Just like commercial vehicles, military equipment and vehicles come in as many shapes, sizes, and varieties. And like commercial vehicles they can carry a variety of payloads, equipment, and or personnel. The cargo and equipment being transported can range from ordinary equipment and everyday items to specialized transport items. This may mean water haulers, pick-up trucks and flatbeds, five-ton, six-wheel cargo trucks and Humvees. Specialized vehicles and equipment also come in many different varieties. Cargo can from commonplace hazardous materials like flammable liquids to chemical weapons. Other specialized equipment can run the gamut from large equipment haulers or transport units to explosives, weapons, and ammunition. Any or all of these cargo items could be found within a military vehicle or they could be transported via a convoy in, around, or through your community. Regardless of whether the equipment falls into the category of ordinary or specialized, the common factor is that events of this nature can still happen and you must be ready to respond.

Response Differences

Chart 1

(Chart 1)

A few differences in a response to this type of event should be noted. Major differences include the vehicle itself and the vehicle equipment weights, although the anatomy of the vehicle might only be somewhat different. Another thing to consider is the cargo marking system for specific cargos transported by military vehicles. The Department of Transportation (DOT) hazardous materials marking system will be used and responders should be familiar with the more common items such as flammable liquids and the other items we deal with in road transport vehicles (Chart 1). Military markings for chemical weapons are not something we commonly see running up and down the highways. Any vehicle accident involving chemical weapons transport will also involve specially trained units from the military or a well-trained hazardous materials response team. Regardless, all responders should be able to recognize and identify the placard marking system for chemical weapons (Chart 2).

Chart 2

(Chart 2)

Other response differences and items of note include convoys that might be transporting weapons, explosives, or ammunition—all of which could prove problematic. Typically, those transports will also involve some sort of force protection, more than likely a military response. This very well could entail an extended response for the necessary military units to arrive on scene, during which time local responders will find themselves in a standby mode. The military has protocols in place for transport of these specialized items, but this does not mean an accident could not happen outside the parameters of a military base.

Extrication Is Extrication




Door removal, top removal, dash rolls, steering column displacement and lifting an object–the simple answer is yes, extrication is extrication. Major differences concern vehicle stabilization, vehicle type, and vehicle anatomy, but the biggest difference is the weight. Sometimes a known weight might change if specific modifications have been performed or the vehicle has been altered for the unique situations the military faces, such as a combat-ready vehicle. For example, a standard military HMMWVs unit (1, Humvee) unloaded weighs around 5,200 pounds with a 2,500-pound load capacity; this means a 7,700-pound weight factor to consider if the unit was fully loaded with cargo. A combat-ready vehicle, also known as an up-armored HMMWV M1114 UAH, (2, UAH Humvee) can weigh a little more than 12,000 pounds.



Another common vehicle responders might encounter is the M939 six-wheel, five-ton cargo truck (3) which has a weight of 22,750 pounds empty; Depending on the cargo-loaded weights, this could change. This is not much different than the weights responders would commonly deal with in a typical heavy vehicle rescue, but responders will also face challenges with some other types of military equipment that are common for military convoys but not for the everyday vehicles or equipment. Some of these examples include some extremely large wreckers or towing vehicles (4), tractor trailer combinations designed to move large heavy pieces of equipment such as tanks and armored vehicles. What makes these types of vehicles unique to responders is not only the heavy armor plating and multiple heavy wheel combinations but once again the weight factors. A fully loaded tank hauler could weigh upwards of 175,000 pounds.


Underride scenario


In extrication terms, standard methods still apply, although in addition to weight considerations responders may also have to deal with increased vehicle heights, necessitating working in an elevated position. You may also have to deal with added armor or thicker metals. An under-ride accident (5) will require stabilization of both vehicles, and in some cases responders will have to lift the larger vehicle from the one underneath.

To perform a lifting exercise, responders must be trained and skilled in the art of stabilization as well as lifting operations. The techniques commonly used with high-pressure air bags would not change, but other means might be required because of the size and weight of the vehicles. Struts are another option, but this requires you to both have these resources available as well as additional training in their operation. Another option is the use of large wreckers, cranes, or boom trucks, but this is not something that can be just figured out on scene. This type of operation requires both training and a predetermined list of resources of where the equipment can be located. Before an emergency happens is the time to establish working relationships, develop any necessary memorandums of understanding with the agencies involved, and start the learning process. Lift operations create a whole new set of issues and obstacles, which in turn creates a need for additional levels of training and operational protocols.

Will the Military Respond?

Yes and no–as previously discussed, if the equipment involved is carrying certain types of cargo then yes, the military will certainly respond and in some cases they will be the ones performing the work, so to speak. If the situation or response does not have any specialized cargo, then first responders will be the ones working the event. In most all cases, there will be someone from the military who responds in more of an official capacity. Again, unless it involves special cargo, the chances of the military sending rescue units is very unlikely, especially if the event has occurred outside the perimeters of the base or the mutual-aid response areas of the on-base fire rescue units.

Remember that in many convoys of this type the military has a large wrecker tagging along with the unit (4), and a good many of the vehicles may have a winch attached. Use of this equipment, which is already on scene, may speed up the process rather than waiting on additional equipment to arrive. Although the personnel operating this equipment are more than likely familiar with its operation, they may not be familiar with on-scene emergency operations. Use the personnel as a resource for the equipment operation, but be sure to brief them and provide guidance. They may be well-versed in attaching the equipment and rigging for lifting, but they may not operate using the same parameters as responders. When it comes to concepts such as “lift an inch, crib an inch,” you may need to provide explanation. It is also possible that the personnel may only be experienced in driving the equipment and have no background or training with lifting and critical angles, therefore this responsibility will fall to responders on scene. Keep in mind that training is a must to fully understand the safe operation of the equipment.

Having large vehicles in a convoy formation provides the responders with other assets, such as using other large vehicles for stationary points and anchors for tiebacks, and change of direction if needed in a winching operation. The incident commander will make the final call, but since you already have units sitting there, why wait to call for additional wreckers and heavy equipment? The majority of military personnel on scene may not have training in emergency response, so it might be necessary to communicate clearly the tasks you want performed.

Low-Frequency Event Training

Low-frequency/high-impact events are always a possibility within the realm of emergency services. Firefighters are well aware of the training demands placed on first responders, but that does not change the need for training within this area. Not everyone has access to military vehicles and equipment, but training can take a variety of forms, from equipment usage and orientation to tabletop exercises to full-blown hands-on evolutions. Regardless of the topic, one of the most important areas is equipment usage and orientation. Do you and all of the members of your crew understand and know how to use all of the equipment on the rigs?  This is true for everything on our rigs, but let’s consider just extrication equipment.

Hydraulic tool use seems to be a discipline that responders like and members will often spend time using and operating these tools, but do we spend the same amount of time with hand tool familiarization? What if hydraulics go down? Are we familiar with the saws, pneumatic chisels, jacks, and other assorted hand tools that might be necessary? Are we all well-versed in using the stabilization equipment that we carry on the rigs? If we carry stabilization jacks or struts, is everyone familiar with their operation? We do not need overturned vehicles to train on how to use the struts or jacks–this can be accomplished against a wall or locker inside the bay. Air bag operations again seem simple, , but when was the last time we pulled them off the rig and used them for training? Chains, winches, ratchet straps all simple pieces of equipment, but are we familiar with what types and capacities our chains and straps have, or their ratings? He we trained on using the winch and setting up a change of direction? All these issues should be considered and trained on. Strive to become proficient with the equipment we have on our rigs.

Tabletop exercises are simple and can be left up to the imagination. If you have military convoys passing through your area or border a military base, research and pull up information on vehicle and equipment types. You can then have an impromptu training session around the kitchen table. Draw out an accident scene and have the crew come up with ideas of what they would do. This allows for building a mental library of “what ifs” that you can access if an emergency occurs. This is also a great way of learning the various types of equipment and having a ballpark idea of the weight factors you may or may not be dealing with at a live scene. Nothing can take the place of full-blown hands-on training, and responders should take advantage of any opportunities that arise. Many programs are available in the areas of heavy rescue through state training academies, and outside training companies provide large vehicle training classes. Finding a class or training session that specifically deals with military vehicle extrication response, however, may be more difficult. At this time, Louisiana State University Fire & Emergency Training Institute is one of very few training entities conducting classes dedicated solely to military vehicles.

Specialized Equipment

In today’s emergency response world, more and more equipment is being carried on our apparatus. Is it ever possible to carry everything that we might need? No. Regardless of what we have or even how much of something we have, there is always a potential scenario where it’s just not enough. There are things we can do to prepare for those events where large amounts or specialized equipment is required. For example, we have limited space for cribbing and normally carry enough for a standard vehicle rescue, but this amount will almost certainly not be enough for a heavy rescue accident or large-scale event. To prepare for these extreme cases, consider having extra cribbing cut and available to be transported to the scene via a utility vehicle. Reach out to local lumber supply stores and develop a contact in your resource manual that could be called on to deliver large lumber to the scene. Preplan and keep those resource manuals updated with companies that can provide the large wreckers and boom trucks. Discus your plans with neighboring mutual-aid departments and evaluate their equipment capabilities; although you may not have struts and jacks, your neighbor might have a full set. You may not ever be able to have all the specialized equipment you need or want, but always have a back-up plan of who to call or where you can go to get the equipment you need for this or any other type of incident. Partnering with a neighbor mutual aid department is important, but so is training. If we have a partnership, set up joint training exercise to familiarize yourself with your neighboring companies and their equipment.


Accidents involving military vehicles on local roadways in your response area are never out of the realm of possibility. Keep in mind your own capabilities, resources, and training, and be alert to the special considerations these incidents may involve.

Ken FowlerKen Fowler, a 28-year veteran of the fire service, is a regional coordinator with the Louisiana State University Fire Emergency Training Institute (FETI). Over the past 28 years he has worked in various facets of emergency services at the local, state, and federal levels. He has worked in suppression and special operations at the local level and at the state level as a member of South Carolina Urban Search & Rescue Task Force I, serving in positions such as Search Team Manager and Task Force Leader. As a member of the FEMA Prepositioned Equipment Team (PEP-POD), he was the team leader for the FEMA PST-5 PEP-POD team located in South Carolina, with the ability to respond to both a national or international incident.  


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