The "Biggies" Of Heavy Rescue

The European fire service has not become as involved in providing emergency medical response as fire departments in the United States. This has led to an expansion of services into other areas to be a productive unit of local government. The areas in which the fire service has enhanced its work is the initial response to hazardous material emergencies, especially leaks and spills, and in special rescue responses.

Photo by Matthias Borchert
The Hannover, Germany, Fire Department uses this rescue crane with a maximum lifting capacity of 40 metric tons (88,000 pounds).

Photo by Matthias Borchert
The Aachen, Germany, Fire Department's 25-metric-ton rescue crane.

The standard vehicle is a compact, well-designed pumper with enlarged rescue and hazmat (beyond operations level) capabilities. This is usually followed by a heavy rescue unit, a special water rescue unit, if necessary, and perhaps a demountable rescue pod carrying additional tools and equipment. Then, where available and required by the situation, the "biggie" a fire department crane.

Photo by Christian Jaehrling
A 15-metric-ton rescue crane used in Frankfurt, Germany.

In many European countries, fire department rescue services in cities is augmented by heavy-capacity cranes for lifting operations. These are self-propelled units similar to those used at construction sites but modified for fire service emergency work. For example, high-intensity floodlights are often installed at the end of the boom.

The "biggie" is the crane unit that is popular in many departments throughout Europe. These are available in a variety of sizes. The smallest units are capable of lifting 15 metric tons (33,000 pounds); larger cities will have several cranes in their fleets, including the larger 50-metric-ton (110,000-pound) units. For example, Berlin, for example, has four 20-ton and two 50-ton units.

The earliest known vehicle of this type was a 1912 horse-drawn unit used by the Den Haag Fire Department in the Netherlands. Berlin received a trailer crane in 1929. In 1955, after an apartment block gas explosion in Frankfurt, Germany, the city's fire department requested a large crane from the U.S. Army. This led to Frankfurt purchasing a 15-metric-ton crane in 1957. At that time, only the Essen, Germany, Fire Department had a large crane; it had a capacity of 20 metric tons (44,000 pounds).

Today, most career fire departments in major German cities that is, in cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants operate cranes. These cranes are used for a variety of rescue operations. The obvious is the lifting of cars and trucks in accidents or over embankments, working with buses and trams (electrified light rail systems in streets) which are more numerous in the cities, and other emergencies in which heavy lifting capacity is required. (The fire departments are not allowed to use their cranes as tow trucks for vehicle recovery operations other than for vehicles of their own fleets.)

Photo by Juergen Mischur/courtesy of Matthias Borchert
A 30-metric-ton rescue crane operated by the Dietzenbach Volunteer Fire Department in Germany.

Photo by Juergen Mischur/courtesy of Matthias Borchert
The Offenbach, Germany, Fire Department's 45-metric-ton rescue crane.

Photo by Keith D. Cullom/IFPA
The Los Angeles City Fire Department's Heavy Rescue 56.

Photo by Keith D. Cullom/IFPA
Heavy Rescue 56 is a 1995 Peterbilt model 377/Century with a 29-foot boom and a 40-ton rating.

Photo by Keith D. Cullom/IFPA
The Oakland, CA, Fire Department fleet includes this heavy rescue unit with a crane.

Photo by Keith D. Cullom/IFPA
Rescue 203 is operated by the Luthersville Volunteer Fire Department in Baltimore County, MD. The rig is a 1986 Mack/ Saulsbury.

Photo by Keith D. Cullom/IFPA
The Phoenix Fire Department's Heavy Rescue 8 is a 1991 Spartan/Saulsbury with a 55-foot National crane.

Photo by Keith D. Cullom/IFPA
The Spry Volunteer Fire Department in York County, PA, operates Rescue 19, a 1987 Autocar/Steeldraulics unit with a 35-foot crane boom.

The cranes are especially useful in structural collapse incidents, since most European construction is masonry or concrete. Hand-operated portable tools do not have the lifting capacity to move large masonry slabs. These units can be used to remove trees and debris from streets after hurricanes, tornadoes or severe wind storms. There are many uses for cranes at structural collapses caused by these storms or an earthquake. They also have applications during flooding.

Some fire departments in the United States have begun using cranes in rescue operations; others are still contemplating the idea.

Gene P. Carlson is a fire service training and education specialist at Oklahoma State University and has over 35 years of fire service experience. Matthias Borchert is a former firefighter and fire officer with the English Forces in Germany. He develops, translates and prints fire service materials in Germany and is a member of the Fire Brigade Society.