Finally, numerous support personnel are required for the operation to run smoothly. A sufficient number of personnel are needed to ensure that the load is being effectively cribbed as it is lifted (Photo 2). This may require having members placed at various spots around the load. Support personnel should stand by at the ready and be available for the actual removal of the victim under the direction of the medical officer. It is also recommended to have members staged by the apparatus to retrieve any additional equipment needed for the operation.
Once the system is assembled and the appropriate personnel are in place, the lift operation can commence. The lift officer must verify that all members are ready for the lift. All members should be on “high alert” during the lift operation and watch for any shifting of the load.
The lift officer will begin the operation by ordering the lower air bag to be inflated slowly by calling “up on (color of hose attached to lower bag).” The bag should be inflated slowly to minimize the chance of the load shifting. Once the bag is inflated sufficiently, the lift officer will call “stop.” The lift officer should allow time for the members cribbing the load to confirm that the load is fully cribbed. Remember the mantra: “lift an inch, crib an inch.”
If the victim is not freed after the initial lift, the lift officer can call for the bag to be inflated further by using the same orders. If the lower bag fails to free the victim at 50% inflation, the control person should advise the lift officer to utilize the upper air bag. The lower bag should only be inflated to approximately 50% to ensure that it remains softer than the upper bag, which allows for the stability of nesting (see Photo 3).
The load only needs to be lifted enough to safely remove the victim (see Photo 4). The higher the load is lifted the more unstable it becomes. As soon is the load is clear of the victim, the medical officer should direct members as to the removal of the patient. Once the patient is freed, he/she should be moved out of the hazard zone as soon as it is feasible to do so.
Air-bag operations are not common for most departments. It is vital that members train on proper air-bag lift procedures and command structure to guarantee they can rapidly begin an operation at the scene of a real incident. Remember to take the time to properly set up the entire system before commencing the operation to reduce the chances of causing further injury to the victim or responding members.
JONATHAN HALL is currently a firefighter with the Saint Paul, MN, Fire Department. He previously served as a training and safety officer for the Township Fire Department in Eau Claire, WI. He is a certified fire instructor for the Chippewa Valley Technical College in Eau Claire. Jonathan frequently teaches firefighter survival and rapid intervention team concepts in both Minnesota and Wisconsin.