The Anatomy Of A Street Sweeper

In the early morning of Aug. 10, 1998, Rescue 1 and Engine Company 6 of the Syracuse, NY, Fire Department were dispatched to a reported car-pedestrian accident. What they found presented a challenge not addressed in any textbook.

Diagram by Mark J. McLees
The inner workings of a street sweeper are shown in this illustration. The action of the rear sweeper is designed to push the debris onto the one-inch ribs of the rubber conveyor belt. The belt travels up and over the top roller assembly, dumping collected trash into the hopper.

Apparently, a woman had been run over and picked up by a street sweeper. Upon arrival, they found a victim, conscious and trapped inside the stopped machine. Their seemingly impossible task was to get her out.

A Department of Public Works supervisor was on the scene, and called a DPW mechanic to assist. Rescue company members utilized the mechanic's knowledge of the machine and determined the fastest and safest way to access the victim.

Using their pneumatic impact wrench, the members removed the large sweeper brush (see photos). This stiff plastic bristle broom is typical to most street sweepers. After removing the brush, members were able to get enough working room to evaluate the remaining obstacles entrapping the victim.

Most sweepers have a rubber conveyer belt designed to carry the collected debris into a hopper. This sweeper model had the hopper located in the front of the machine.

The victim was located at the top point where the conveyer belt travels over the top roller into the hopper (see diagram). Rescue company members used a knife to cut this rubber belt at the lower roller assembly. By design, this belt is capable of running in reverse if the motor is operating. (It should be clear to all rescuers that re-starting any motor to reverse the action of the machine is not a safe alternative during rescues involving a viable patient). Once the belt was cut, the rescuers were able to slowly pull the belt in reverse by hand to free the victim.

Photo by Mark J. McLees
Once the rear brush was removed, rescue members were able to work directly under the cab, where the conveyor belt and lower roller assembly were located.

Photo by Mark J. McLees
A close-up view of the brush shows the location where bolts were removed to drop it out of the way.

Photo by Mark J. McLees
This view is taken from the lower roller assembly looking up the belt toward the top roller, where it dumps into the front hopper. There is about a six-inch clearance between the rubber conveyor belt ribs and the hydraulic tank (note the drain plug).

Photo by Mark J. McLees
A sharp knife was used to slice all the way across the rubber conveyor belt at one of the ribs.

Because of the "can-do" attitude of the rescue company members, the extrication went rapidly and without further injury to the victim. Machinery entrapments are unique and it would be impossible to pre-plan all the potential hazards in your community. The mechanical abilities of rescue company member cannot be emphasized enough in situations such at this one.

Mark J. McLees, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is captain of the Syracuse, NY, Fire Department's Rescue Company 1.