Vehicle Extrication: Cutting from the Tire Side

Randall Wells on vehicle extrication

By Randall Wells

One of the humbling things about auto extrication is the fact that if you gave a ram, spreader, and cutter to a couple of hard workers with good mechanical aptitude, eventually they would extricate the trapped party. As professionals, firefighters should operate differently. We need to be surgical, fluid, and have a plan of action. We also must remember that the patient’s condition dictates our mode of operation and drives our plan. I’d like to share a training tip that I think will help your thought process. This tip exploits the weaknesses of some older principles and gives maximum travel, which will set you and your crew up for success at roadway incidents with pinned or trapped parties.

Let’s focus on training for a dash relocation/displacement. Many training techniques in the past were not practical or efficient, mainly because the tool operation is in the way of the trapped party and there would be tool migration into the passenger compartment. Also, a pie cut or a cut-and-pinch to place the spreaders may have some limitations when applied to new vehicle construction and different vehicle body types. 

Randall Wells/YouTube

Removing the fender, identifying the location of the seam inside the wheel well, and attempting to start your cuts there will accomplish three things:

  1. It allows you to capture the seam with your cutter blades to create a purchase/relief cut which will direct the material to tear along the kickboard. It weakens the connection from the A Pillar and allows it to be driven up or forward rather than tearing out towards the operator. The seams or ribs can present as flat or protrude from the connection. Connection points can be friction spot welded, folded, and glued, or a combination of all.
  2. This ensures that the cut is completely through the foundation of the A Pillar.
  3. As you move perpendicular to the A Pillar, you ensure minimal tool migration into the passenger compartment.

When training, position the tire in or out, by manipulating the steering wheel and deflating or removing the tire. This trains the operator to establish a better work space and to work to achieve a perpendicular tool position with minimal tool migration.

We know that these incidents provide multiple challenges, and vehicles in real emergency incidents will not always present as they do in training. However, you can build recognition-primed decision-making  muscle memory to determine what and why things need to be cut or pushed to get maximum travel in adverse situations. I always choose to manipulate the machine, not the patient.

Remember, the Devil is always in the the details.  

Randall Wells is special operations chief with the Denver (CO) Fire Department.

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