Big-Rig Overturns & Underrides

Uprighting a loaded cement mixer or lifting the rear of a loaded van trailer are everyday tasks for heavy recovery operators. Place someone who is injured and trapped in a car under such a vehicle and a challenge begins. While heavy recovery...


Uprighting a loaded cement mixer or lifting the rear of a loaded van trailer are everyday tasks for heavy recovery operators. Place someone who is injured and trapped in a car under such a vehicle and a challenge begins. While heavy recovery operators may easily overcome this challenge, it may...


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Alternative extrication techniques may be performed; i.e., trunk tunneling. Perhaps this technique will be of benefit and offer the opportunity to maintain axial spinal alignment. Responders should learn and frequently practice alternative techniques for such incidents involving overturns/underrides.

STEP 4. Lift the Larger Vehicle

This is best accomplished with a heavy wrecker and its associated equipment. When lifting such weight, it is vital that fire-rescue responders understand their limitations when using common extrication equipment. Responders are urged to seek out training providing details of lifting physics, timber cribbing capacities, big-rig anatomy, rigging and heavy-lifting operations. Only with a thorough knowledge of this information will they understand their capabilities.

As the vehicle is lifted, it should be fully supported by equipment that is within its WLL. Herein lies the benefit of timber cribbing, vertical strut systems and heavy wreckers. Obviously, continuous observation must be provided for any lifting or uprighting operation to increase the safety for all involved. The area surrounding the vehicles should be under constant surveillance by responders who can sound a command to halt the lift. This command must be established prior to any lifting and understood by everyone on scene, as such an operation may be lifting and stabilizing several thousand pounds.

Responders are urged to train with local heavy-duty towing and recovery operators prior to any incident. It is important to understand the capabilities and limitations of the heavy wreckers as well. In fact, the ideal circumstance is to arrange for the response of a heavy wrecker on a first-alarm assignment to an overturn/underride incident. Unless it is a recognized emergency vehicle, a heavy wrecker must obey all traffic laws and regulations.

Cell phone pictures from various angles of the collision can be forwarded to incoming heavy units. This allows an opportunity to begin assessment prior to arriving for the operators. An area large enough for the heavy wrecker to operate should be provided on scene. A responder should be assigned to accompany the wrecker operator and facilitate the lifting operation. During the actual lifting operation, the lifting manager should be in constant voice, visual or touch contact with the wrecker operator.

STEP 5. Separate the Vehicles and Extricate the Victims

Although controversial, this step provides increased safety for victims and emergency responders. Depending on the type of big rig, it may be safer to upright the rig rather than operate under it. Once the lift has begun, it is safer to continue until the overturned big rig is uprighted. After lifting the larger vehicle, the smaller one is attacked similarly to a common extrication problem. It is inadvisable and dangerous for anyone to work beneath a suspended load. A thorough knowledge of timber cribbing, struts and heavy rigging is paramount to provide safety for all involved.

This article features an overview of the "5-Step Discipline." The Big Rig Rescue program provides much more information and fosters a cooperative working relationship among heavy recovery operators and fire-rescue responders. For details, contact the author at billyleach@gmail.com or P.O. Box 4324, Asheboro, NC 27204.

BILLY LEACH Jr. has been involved in emergency services since 1976, combining career and volunteer experience. He serves as the developer and senior presenter for Big Rig Rescue and conducts training in vehicle rescue. Leach is a co-author of the textbook Big Rig Rescue, on heavy-truck anatomy and extrication. He may be contacted at billyleach@gmail.com or P.O. Box 4324, Asheboro, NC 27204.