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Trics Of The Trade: Exothermic Torch for Entry & Rescue

An exothermic torch works by feeding oxygen through an exothermic carbon steel cutting rod that is charged by the 12-volt battery.Slideshow Images:

"Central dispatch to Battalion 8, we are getting multiple calls on this box. We're filling it out, and you have four engines, three trucks, the rescue and the squad companies. It sounds like you're going to work".

"Battalion 8 to dispatch 10-4."

Before you arrive you hear the first engine transmit the following, "Engine 1 to dispatch, we are on scene and have a working fire in a 75-by-100-foot, one-story, brick and joist dwelling".

You arrive on the scene and check in with the officer in charge, get a briefing and assume command. The front of the building is opened up and lines are being stretched. All seems to be going good when you get a report from the truck company in the rear stating that they are having a tough time with ventilation because of the heavy steel doors and the saws are just not getting the job done. Right about the same time, the rescue company arrives and reports in to get an assignment. You tell the officer of the problem in the rear and assign this unit to help gain access and vent the rear of the building.

When the rescue officer arrives in the rear he is confronted with a heavy gauge steel door with no visible hinges and a lot of evidence of welding. He could call for an oxy-acetylene torch, but instead he calls for the exothermic torch, knowing that it will make quick work of a door like this. Because of the type of work we do and the portability of this apparatus, approximately 75 pounds, it gives you some awesome cutting power when and where you need it.

Yes, there is such a thing as an exothermic torch, and no, it has nothing to do with the Ghost Busters. The exothermic torch has the ability to cut through mild steel that is three inches thick and makes quick work of re-bar, coated steel, bridge decking, concrete lined pipes and highway guard rails. It will burn through common metals like aluminum, cast iron, stainless steel, magnesium and mineral aggregates, even when they are covered in mud, dirt or rusted out.

It can also be used to punch through concrete or brick. The exothermic torch I will talk about in this article is made by Arcair and the model in the accompanying pictures is the Arcair Slice Pack (see photo 1). It weighs in at less than 75 pounds and runs on oxygen and a 12-volt battery. It is fairly compact and fits in to a compartment easily.

An exothermic torch works by feeding oxygen through an exothermic carbon steel cutting rod that is charged by the 12-volt battery. When using the torch, the rod is put in contact with a striker that creates a short circuit arc causing the tip of the rod to heat and spark (see photo 2). By feeding oxygen through the rod when this is happening, the carbon steel rod ignites and the cutting operation can begin. The approximate temperature that a rod produces is over 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The rods we use are 1/4-inch by 22 inches and burn for approximately 45 seconds. The cutting rod will continue to burn as long as the oxygen is supplied. This apparatus uses standard industrial grade oxygen and fittings.

As with any tool, cutting procedures will vary from job to job. The cutting is usually done by dragging the rod in the direction of the cut. Once the rod makes contact with the material to be cut, drag the rod in the direction of the cut. If you can not see the opening that is produced after a cut, or kerf, you are moving too fast. If the material to be cut is greater than 1 1/2 inches, use a sawing motion to ensure a complete burn through.

This tool should be used with protective gear including eye protection and gloves. We wear a hood when using this tool for additional protection. Some of the tricks that we have found when using this tool are as follows:

  • No matter which way you are using this tool, whether dragging, pushing, or using a sawing motion, you should only move as fast as the tool can remove the slag (see photo 3). Slag is the molten metal that is the by-product of using this kind of tool. If you move too fast, the slag will close the kerf and you will have to return and re-cut that area.
  • Have another member standing by with the next rod will decrease the time needed to fire up another rod. Once the rod has burned down to about three inches of the collet nut, (the nut on the pistol grip), it must be changed. Burning down lower than three inches may damage the tool. With gloved hands, remove the burned rod and have the second member ready to insert the new rod. Once inserted, the burning member tightens the nut and puts the new rod into the molten metal lying around the cutting operation. If done in rapid succession, it is hot enough re-ignite the rod and continue the cutting operation (see photo's 4 through 8).
  • When using the torch for piercing, expect blowback. Hold the torch at arms length and wear full protective clothing including darkened eye protection. Once the torch starts to create a hole, move the torch in a small circular motion, using caution not to ignite the sides of the rod.

As you can see in the last photo (photo 9) it takes a lot of rods to cut through a piece of railroad track, but, never the less, it was a successful operation. The only way to remain proficient at any tool is continued practice with it. The information above is only good if you apply it regularly. These are just some...Tric's of the Trade

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Captain Tony Tricarico has been a member of the fire service since 1977 and was hired by the FDNY in 1981. Tony has served in the South Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan. Since 2002 he has been assigned to the Special Operations Command and currently serves as Captain of Squad 252.

Tony is a nationally certified instructor as well as a New York State Certified Fire Instructor, is an adjunct instructor at the FDNY Technical Rescue School, a Deputy Chief Instructor at the Suffolk County Fire Academy, and additionally instructs and lectures throughout the country on a Engine, Truck, RIT and Special Operations tactics and procedures. He has been featured in FETN and American Heat training video's on collapse, elevator operations and SCBA emergencies. He is an active member of the Mount Sinai Volunteer Fire Department on Long Island and a former Chief of Department. You can reach Tony by e-mail at: tonytric@optonline.net

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