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The New Orleans, LA, Fire Department has been building an in-house vehicle extrication technician course for much of the past decade. Along the way, we have picked up a few hard-earned lessons to pass along to anyone thinking of creating or improving a vehicle extrication course. Please keep in mind that these are the minimum factors to consider.
• Set a standard. There is a great deal of variance in the quality of extrication classes given across this country. Some are PowerPoint marathons, many are “war story” reminiscences and quite a few are very good, challenging courses with plenty of hands-on training. A quality course should meet an established, quality standard. I’m not a big fan of saying, “This is the only way to do things,” but the only quality standard I have found is National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1006, Standard for Technical Rescuer Professional Qualifications. The chapter on Vehicle and Machinery Rescue is broken down into 15 job performance requirements (JPRs) that specifically state the knowledge and skills that must be taught to train someone in that JPR. The chapter is broken into Level I requirements for common passenger vehicles and simple machinery and Level II requirements for commercial heavy vehicles or large machinery.
• Qualify instructors. Our instructors are all members of heavy technical rescue squads with at least five years’ experience and we want them to be certified in Fire Instructor I from Louisiana State University. We guide them through lesson and training plans, but allow a good deal of tactical freedom when conducting practical applications. When we bring new instructors on board, they work under a veteran until that instructor and the special operations training coordinator agree that the new instructor is ready to fly solo.
• Conduct plenty of hands-on training. Some professions can be taught in the classroom. Vehicle extrication technician is not one of those. You can talk all day about “purchase points” and “Nader pins,” but letting your future rescuers tear a door apart fruitlessly because they are not getting anywhere near said pin is a lesson that will stay with them for life. The instructor can enhance the lesson by pointing out that the student is wasting time that an actual patient may not have. We put our people in the classroom for a half-day. After that, it’s practical application for three days.
• Make the training progressive. We assume we are starting out with a blank slate. We start our practical applications by teaching seven basic disentanglement techniques on relatively pristine vehicles (see page 108). On day two, students work a scenario based on a simple car-vs.-car setup. The cars have minimal damage inflicted by our training host. As the training progresses, the scenarios get more and more difficult. The last scenario requires about 1½ hours to complete. This gives the students a foundation on which to master the progressively harder challenges. Each mastered challenge increases the students’ confidence and skills.
• Make friends. The New Orleans Fire Department uses Bill’s Auto Wrecking yard to conduct extrication training. Our training coordinator contacts their operations manager a month before class and maps out how many and what type of vehicles will be needed. On the day of the class, the instructor discusses placement and damage points with the yard’s forklift operator. His experience in working with us over the years has led him to become quite the artist in creating vehicle accidents to the necessary standards. When we progress to the Level II stage, we get help from Bob Kingsmill and his heavy-wrecking service. He has a great deal of expertise and he assists in finding heavy vehicles for the Level II courses.