December 21, 2009:
Today we had an excellent “guest” instructor, Firefighter Joe Blank, from Saint Paul Fire’s Rescue Squad 2. Joe delivered a very informative lecture on various types of automobiles (conventional, hybrid, electric, alternative fuels, etc), how to safely extricate a person trapped inside a vehicle, and the wide variety of tools and techniques for cutting open a car to rescue trapped occupants.
Joe is an expert on auto extrication, and recently led a department team in researching, comparing, and selecting new powered extrication equipment. He also performed several hundred auto extrications during the training sessions with all Saint Paul Fire crews as they learned to use the new equipment. There is no question that Joe is an expert on the latest equipment available from a variety of manufacturers AND the wide variety of hazards and vehicle types found on the road today. It was a blessing having him teach extrication to our class! As Chief Morehead summed it up: it was the best extrication class ever conducted during a Recruit Academy!
It’s ironic that many of the features on modern cars that are designed to keep the driver and passenger safe pose a significant hazard for firefighters. Airbags, shock-absorbing bumpers, gas-assisted hood and trunk lifts, and high-strength construction all pose additional hazards for responders working to free occupants trapped inside their cars as a result of an accident. The modern propulsion systems – electric, hybrid, and alternative fuels – also pose significant challenges or dangers to firefighters responding to a crash or a vehicle fire. Joe did an exceptional job during the morning classroom presentation!
In the afternoon, we donned our bunker gear and split into four groups. Outside on the perimeter road surrounding the Training Center sat 4 cars, 4 sets of extrication tools and equipment (including the Department’s new Holmatro hydraulic powered rescue tools), and 4 other exceptional instructors from “the field:” the talented crew of Ladder 8 “A-Shift.” Along with Joe, and our Training Instructors Vrona, Deno, and Hawkins, the crew of Ladder 8 assisted each of the four groups as we practiced a variety of extrication techniques. For 3 hours we crawled all over and inside “our car” and got comfortable with the hazards, the tools, and the techniques. We:
· Stabilized the vehicle using cribbing
· We removed all the glass (using our new Res-Q-Rench center punches on the side windows and chopping out the windshield with an axe)
· Cut open the hood and cut the battery cables
· Forced open and cut off all four doors
· Cut open and removed the roof
· Cut and removed the front seat backs
· Forced open the trunk using “through the lock” techniques (forcibly remove the lock cylinder, then use a screwdriver to manipulate the locking mechanism)
· Cut off the truck lid and tunneled through the trunk into the back seat
· Forced the dashboard up and forward using a hydraulic powered ram
When we got done, our car was a pile of parts sitting on top of a “convertible” chassis! The work was physically demanding. The Holmatro hydraulic rescue tools – the Department’s latest version of the venerable “jaws of life” – did an outstanding job cutting through metal door posts and forcing open doors, but they are heavy! It was difficult at times to “get the right angle” without significant twisting and stretching and lifting. I really enjoyed the hands on extrication practice!
When we finished, we had 45 minutes left for physical training, so we ran up and down the six floors of the drill tower non-stop wearing our full PPE and SCBAs! It was a great workout, and a wonderful way to finish off a very enjoyable day of interesting classroom work AND exceptional hands on practical training!