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TOPIC: High-Pressure Airbags
OBJECTIVE: Understand Fundamental Lifting Principles and Practices of High-Pressure Airbags
TASK: Given a heavy object, the rescue team shall lift and stabilize the object utilizing cribbing blocks, wood timbers, and high-pressure airbags
Single-Point, Multi-Point, Tilting and Parallel Lifts
Our series on lifting heavy loads continues with this look at high-pressure rescue airbag operations. Regardless of what brand of airbag system your department has, there are certain principles of operation that are universal. The assignment presented in this lesson will be for you and your rescue team to lift a heavy object using high-pressure airbags and stabilize utilizing cribbing.
When lifting a load with airbags, your two strategic options include designing a single-point or a multi-point lift. The choice is yours to make at the incident scene based on the incident and the conditions present. A single-point lift means that the airbag(s) are placed at only one point or location beneath the object. The force of the airbag(s) creates upward force at just this one point. The other strategy, the multi-point lift, is accomplished when the lifting effort is delivered at two or more points along the object. To accomplish a multi-point lift with your airbag system, tactically you would use two airbags, but would place them in two different locations beneath the heavy object. Each lifting point is specifically selected to allow the load to be lifted simultaneously by both airbags. By controlling air flow to each individual bag, you are able to accomplish a controlled and balanced lift.
In addition to deploying either a single-point or multi-point lift for your scenario, you can design your lift strategy to accomplish a tilting lift or a parallel lift. A tilting lift is designed to raise one portion or side of a heavy object more than the other. A tilting lift would be used when just one specific area of an object needs to be raised to free a victim, for example. An example would be a scenario where a homeowner is found pinned beneath his vehicle in the driveway of his residence. The bumper jack that was holding the car up failed and the car dropped onto the backyard mechanic. With a tilting-lift strategy, rescuers would stabilize both sides of the vehicle but would only lift just one side to remove the victim.
The opposite strategy of this is called a parallel lift. A parallel lift raises the object or portion of the object that is trapping your victim evenly off the ground without causing the lifted area to be unbalanced or unlevel. Using the same man-under-car scenario, a parallel-lift strategy would have airbags placed on both sides of the vehicle near the victim. Both sides of the car near the victim would be lifted at the same time.
Single-Bag or Stacked-Bag Lift
Once the strategic decision is made as to whether the lift will be a single-point or multi-point lift and whether a parallel lift or tilting lift is desired, tactically, each lifting point can be a single airbag or a stack of two or even three airbags. The SAVA brand airbag system, for example, is designed to function in a one-, two-or three-bag lifting stack. Other systems typically work with a maximum of only two stacked bags. If two bags of unequal size are to be used together in a stack, the larger bag should be the base or bottom bag. The smaller size airbag should be positioned as the top bag.
Stacking airbags is a tricky thing and is inherently dangerous. On July 10, 2003, a 50-year-old male South Dakota volunteer firefighter, working that evening as a fire equipment salesman, died after being struck by a stacked rescue airbag when the load shifted. The victim placed a stack of three airbags under the rear bumper of a 191,000-pound front-end loader. The lift was accomplished, but as the airbags were being deflated, they shifted and burst out from under the loader. The middle airbag struck the victim on the head and chest resulting in his death.