Vehicle Rescue Instructor Safety Guidelines – Part 1

SUBJECT: Safety During Vehicle Rescue Practical Skills Training
TOPIC: Implementing Safety Guidelines for Practical Skills Vehicle Rescue Training
OBJECTIVE: Develop and implement safety guidelines that address applicable NFPA standards for use when conducting practical skills vehicle rescue training sessions.
TASK: Develop and implement comprehensive safety guidelines for conducting practical skills vehicle rescue training using the sample guidelines and checklist presented in this series of articles.

Attorney: “I assume you conducted a hazard analysis and risk assessment prior to starting the class that my client was a participant in. Could I please see your documentation of this assessment as required by the standard?”

Attorney: “When you assigned the group of students, including my client to that specific junk car, had you ever inspected the vehicle for any hazards that might be present? Were you aware that the fuel tank was leaking gasoline and that accidental ignition was possible?”

Attorney: “What was the pre-arranged emergency evacuation signal required by the generally accepted minimum standards that all participants at the drill were to be informed about and should have been told what to do in the event it was activated?”

Attorney: “I’m assuming you had a designated safety officer for the practical skills training session since it is apparent that there is an inherent risk involved in performing these vehicle rescue practical skills. Who was your safety officer at the time my client was injured?”

Attorney: “At the time that the injury occurred to my client, there wasn’t any standby medical equipment or even an ambulance vehicle immediately available. How long did it take to get an ambulance or even basic life support-trained personnel onto the training grounds to render care to my client?”

Attorney: “Had you or any instructor assigned to work with you ever informed my client that full protective clothing was required to be worn during the vehicle rescue training or was it simply implied that it would be a good idea?”

This multi-part University of Extrication series focuses on safety during vehicle rescue skills training. The multi-part series is dedicated to raising the awareness of the safety responsibilities that instructors automatically assume when conducting hands-on vehicle rescue training. There are generally accepted national standards and “reasonable and prudent” practices that you will be held accountable to should something go wrong. As the instructor, you cannot plead ignorance of your inherent management responsibilities. You are responsible, so be proactive.

For any vehicle rescue instructor, department or training organization that does not have a policy in place addressing how a hands-on vehicle rescue class will be managed, these sample safety guidelines can become the first step in formulating these procedures. The information presented explains the multitude of actions that must be taken by the Lead Instructor before and during the rescue training program.

Going to a junkyard and ripping cars apart isn’t as easy as it used to be. The assumed personal risks involved are inherent with the training that will take place. You know that and the attorneys know that as well. That’s why the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) developed Standard 1500, Standard 1670 and others to assist us in injury prevention in the first place.

Would you be prepared to answer each of the questions presented by the attorney at the beginning of this article as he grilled the instructor on the witness stand? If one of your students were injured, as Lead Instructor, you’d be the one who would have to answer these hard-hitting questions and many more just like them.

Developing and following a set of procedural guidelines can be the proactive step you take at the beginning of a class that actually prevents an injury from occurring. As a professional instructor, I am concerned for the safety of everyone involved in programs that I present. I am aware of my responsibilities and liabilities. I have informally made a safety orientation “speech” to my students at the beginning of my classes for many years. Now I realize that if it isn’t written down, it didn’t happen; documentation is everything in a court of law. I now use this safety checklist each and every time as I begin a practical skills vehicle rescue training program. I read the “rules of the road” to the participants right from the checklist format of the guideline. I record items as they are covered on the form and plan on saving it forever.

After this formal orientation event, things get done right and when there are violations, it’s easy to enforce the rules. This brief period spent at the beginning of a class keeps safety as the primary focus of everything we do during the class. That’s the way it should be. An injury or death during training is totally preventable. As an instructor, become a part of the solution.


Practical Skills Training Program Management Responsibilities

The Lead Instructor is the designated individual who shall accept overall command and management responsibility for all aspects of the practical skills training program. Prior to the commencement of any skills-oriented training, the Lead Instructor shall complete a training ground site survey and assessment. The location of all training ground sectors shall be determined during this survey. A written record of this assessment process and documentation of the completion of all items addressed within this safety guideline shall be made.

Training Grounds Site Survey and Assessment

Lead Instructor shall conduct a site survey of the practical work area and determine that the presently available training grounds and facility allows the training program participants to operate safely throughout the duration of the exercise. Assessment shall include the following considerations:

  • Permission to use the designated practical skills training area has been obtained from the host agency or property owner.
  • Hot zone is as level as practical.
  • Hot, Warm and Cool zone areas have been cleared of obstructions, potential hazards upon which participants may trip or fall or otherwise be injured, fluids including flammable liquid spills have been removed.
  • Severe weather, a hazardous situation or other difficult condition is not present.

Lead Instructor shall inspect all acquired vehicles to be used for practical skills training and document the following:

  • Vehicles are generally acceptable for use during the training program.
  • Evidence of clear title for each vehicle documented.
  • Permission to use vehicle for practical skills training documented.
  • Vehicles in proper position and location for practical skills training.
  • Glove compartment, trunk and other storage areas of the acquired vehicles should be inspected and any loose items found in, on and under the vehicle removed if these materials in any way present a safety concern for participants and instructional staff.
  • Interior inspection for hazardous conditions, insects or animals documented.
  • Fuel tanks have been rendered safe or removed.
  • Fluids removed, including motor oils, antifreeze fluid and transmission fluid.
  • Electrical system shut down – battery removed or battery known to be intact and planned as a practical assignment during the training program.
  • Airbags deployed or loaded airbags scheduled for manual deployment planned as a demonstration during the training program.

Lead Instructor shall establish the Hot zone, Warm zone and Cool zone around the acquired vehicles. The extrication tools and equipment can then be off-loaded from the fire and rescue apparatus and staged on a tarp in one central area within the Warm zone.

Next: Participant Training Orientation Session

Ronald E. Moore, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is the fire training manager of Plano, TX, Fire Rescue. He serves as the Forum Moderator of the University of Extrication section of the website and can be contacted directly at