I was approached by a neighboring company about techniques to pull steering columns. In all of my rescue training, I've been taught that it's just not a good idea to do that on today's cars. I recall learning that the joint in the column of newer cars can dislodge and hit your patient. I'll let you figure out where they'll get hit. I suggested, instead, several ways to displace the dashboard and the column without using the chain around the column technique.
So now I'm searching the net for information that supports not using chains to pull columns. So far, all I've found are articles explaining how to do it. I know I didn't make the column joint issue up so can anyone help me out with some supporting evidence?
Are there any VRT instructors who can comment on this as well?
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Thread: Pulling Steering Columns
08-27-2002, 10:58 AM #1
- Join Date
- Nov 2001
- Bluffton, SC, USA
Pulling Steering Columns
08-27-2002, 12:19 PM #2
It was safe in older vehicles.
Now with tilt steering wheels, and offset linkages and such, there are many points of potential failure in the steering "columns." Straight shafts are by and large a thing of the past. I think, however, that in some full size trucks, there are still straight and true steering columns.
Regardless, there's usually a better way.
Pushing them away is much better than pulling on them, thereby creating a fulcrum on which a broken part can violently spin.
"STEERING COLUMN DASH LIFT:
This method is a secondary method. The steering column lift is time consuming and has numerous safety concerns for both the patient and firefighters. This method is a poor choice for a primary dash lift.
CAUTION: If the vehicle is newer than 1970 and has a tilt steering wheel, the steering column dash lift method is not recommended. The steering column has been noted to separate under extreme force, causing fatal injuries to the patient and injuries to firefighters"
-Huntington Beach Fire Department Training Manual
08-27-2002, 12:23 PM #3
I'll echo Resq14 in that pushing is better than pulling. When I am teaching, I also emphasize the possible dangers of pulling steering columns due to the linkage and also possible air bag issues. We timed ourselves on pulling a steering column vs pushing dash and found that we could push dash faster and much farther.
08-27-2002, 12:30 PM #4
In searching the forums for a more eloquent answer to your question than I can provide, I came across some true wisdom.
A post from the Great Rescue101 back in March:
"[concerning lifting the column] FF26,That works OK on rear wheel drive or suv. but not a good idea on frt wheel drives with u-joints that are just under the dash.These have a nasty habit of snapping off and swinging when you pull on them vertical to the front.I'd cut the steering wheel ring before I'd pull on a front wheel drive column.Just my thoughts based on some destructive testing.T.C."
From Raricciuti (also oddly in March in a different thread):
"Just a word of caution about "pulling" a steering column; this was a very common evolution quite a few years ago, when cars were more metal than plastic, and steering columns were solid steel shafts. However, many newer vehicles have tilting, telescopic, energy absorbing, and/or "jointed" steering columns (the latter meaning there are essentially "universal joints" in the shaft assembly, very common on smaller front-wheel-drive vehicles). The hazard here is the column may separate if pulled upward with a chain, causing some potentially nasty injuries to the vehicle driver and any personnel in close proximity to it when it fails. A dash lift evolution may be a better alternative with many cars; the column goes up with the rest of the dash, and it has the added benefit of allowing the passenger side to be raised at the same time."
Here's a link to some more from that thread:
08-27-2002, 04:02 PM #5
Pulling the column works well, provided you know how to identify the hazards involved.
Learn the technique, learn the alternative techniques. Use the one that best suits the situation at the time....
I'm not going to repeat what has already been said by others in this forum and others...Luke
09-09-2002, 09:53 PM #6
An Opinion from Ron Moore, Forum Moderator
There is some accurate information posted in this discussion of column pulling and there is some well-intentioned but inaccurate info here as well.
Nothing wrong with cutting the steering wheel ring to provide additional clearance, just stay clear of the loaded airbag while doing it.
Pushing directly on the column is OK but easier to explain than it is to do.
Rolling the dash is allright also but when there is no B-pillar, that can complicate the task.
Yes, the best technique in almost all situations (other than side-resting and roof-resting) is jacking the dash. This is a less-than-90-second task with two people that yields great results.
The comments about a split steering column flying violently into a patient and into a rescuer(especially that Huntington Beach training manual excerpt)is greatly exagerrated. The column will bend long before it comes apart. I don't know what Huntington was pulling with that caused them to write their manual that way, but when a spreader is used, the second and third sections of the split column simply come apart; separating near the front of the firewall. You can see this happening and you can anticipate this well before the sections actually separate. The violent failure isn't what is going to happen anymore.
You HAVE to know how to pull a column even on a car that is so brand new, it still smells like the showroom. The reason you have to be able to pull columns on new vehicles is... what do you do for a driver trapped in a side-resting, driver's side down entrapment situation. That's where pulling the column is THE ideal task!
09-09-2002, 10:20 PM #7
- Join Date
- Jul 1999
- Puyallup, Wa.
Here's how we pull a column on a side-resting vehicle. Easy and quick to set-up and very effective...
09-09-2002, 10:49 PM #8
- Join Date
- Jul 1999
- Puyallup, Wa.
Here's another technique for pulling a column that gets a good vertical lift and doesn't tie up your spreader.
Wrap the column with a length of chain( we use a 7ft chain sling). Anchor another length of chain to the undercarriage and connect the 2 lengths over the hood area with a grab hook. Reinforce under your lifting point with cribbing to prevent the hood from buckling, slide a hilift jack in under the chain and lift the length of chain. This raises the column in turn. A good technique when access to the driver's door is blocked and you can't remove it to jack or ram the dash.
09-10-2002, 12:15 AM #9Originally posted by rmoore
The column will bend long before it comes apart.
The violent failure isn't what is going to happen anymore.
We either lift the column, or lift the dash with the spreaders. No messing with bilateral rams and extrication plates, or worrying if the b-post is there. Yes we have the rams and plates, but except for extreme situations, spreaders alone can usually do the job. Resting one jaw on the rocker panel (with a stepchock below this point) and the other on the column usually results in a smooth and gentle lift. Remember we're moving just enough to get the patient out, not to make the hood perpendicular to the ground.
I'm not saying 'never pull a column.' Obviously there are times when you do what you have to do based on the situation (drivers' side down scenario being a good one, for example). I just think when you are weighing pushing versus pulling in more 'conventional' situations, pushing makes more sense to me.
Additionally, I'm not a fan of hi-lift jacks... never have been. They are far to unstable for rescue situations in my humble opinion. Yeah you can argue all tools require training and skilled operators. But the risk of a hi-lift kicking out... those babies can spring quite far. Most recently this was proven to me at a FarMedic class while using hi-lifts on a tractor. I wouldn't use one unless it was my only option. There are some products that can minimize this reaction, such as extrication plates with hi-lift cutouts. I bet many here probably won't agree with me, and I know sometimes they can be a squad's primary means of extricating. They have their place, and they have their benefits. But I feel their risks can outweigh their benefits, and that there's usually a safer way.
Last edited by Resq14; 09-10-2002 at 12:49 AM.
09-10-2002, 07:15 AM #10
Check out this link....
It's not that often you see a steering wheel pull being performed now, but check out this link, NY Firefighters Perform Extrication It shows a NY crew performing a steering wheel pull at an MVA.
The link/photo story is from Feb 2002...Luke
09-10-2002, 08:27 AM #11
Since I work on vehicles for a living,I'll offer this little tidbit.Having replaced a good many rack and pinion steering units on FWD cars I'm not a fan of pulling columns.If I had to,I'd do it ONLY AS A LAST RESORT!Now I don't expect any of you to take my word on it,so PLEASE do this for yourselves, The next time you're out practicing,take time to cut the rubber protective boot at the base of a FWD vehicle where it goes thru the floor.Then see how it mounts to the dash.AFTER you do this,then come back here and tell me how much force you want to impart on that column,particularly vertical.If Ron wants to do it,far be it from me to tell him NO.But I'm not going to unless there is NO OTHER WAY.You folks take a look,and tell me what you really think.T.C.
09-10-2002, 04:33 PM #12
I'm actually going to agree with my hot headed friend, 101! (Shock horror T.C.- the upside down, kangaroo chaser is not going to argue with you! )
Most steering columns that I've had a long hard look at are generally attached to the dashboard assembly by "U" shaped brackets which don't offer that much in the way of strength.
Peel back the boot and I've seen two options:
#1 is that the joint (I call it a Universal Joint) is here, near the casualties feet.
#2 is that the universal joint is under the floor pan. The steering column just goes through the boot, through the floor.
Whilst I've heard lots of people warn about steering columns seperating and these joints failing catastrophically- I've never seen it happen and I've never been able to simulate it in training.
BUT, for as long as there is the potential there- and I beleive there is, then pulling a column is a last resort. We still teach it, but we also teach alternatives such as dash rolls, dash pushes, cutting steering wheels, dash lifts, etc.Luke
09-11-2002, 03:15 AM #13
- Join Date
- Jul 1999
- Puyallup, Wa.
I'm not advocating pulling a column over pushing or jacking with hydraulics as a routine practice. My 1st choice is jacking the dash with the spreader. As a few have said though, the crash may prevent you from using these more common techniques and the best option may be to pull the column.
I understand the 'potential' danger others have pointed out, can anyone name any specific instances where a violent separation has occured? Was it training or a real incident? what technique was used?
Reason I'm asking is many times we train on cars that are not in the state they would be for an actual entrapment. We practice displacing the dash on a perfectly good vehicle, and in doing so hyperextend/distort it far past its engineered state.Ya, I can see how doing this could lead to something coming apart with a lot of energy.
But perform that same technique on an actual rescue, and you may be only trying to restore those components to their orginal position within the vehicle to achieve patient release. Much less force may be needed and much less potential for the feared violent failure.
Using a come-along or hi-lift jack in the 2 methods I posted above also gives you a lot of control in how much force you apply. Force/distance of pull is applied in small increments and you can stop before you reach a point you feel is unsafe. Using a hydraulic spreader as a pulling tool however doesn't give you this same ability to limit the force, in my opinion.
09-11-2002, 08:17 AM #14
Remember I mentioned DESTRUCTIVE testing?The "u-joints" have a 3/8" web at their heaviest point, easily breakable by either jack or comealong.Yes, the load is put on gradually one click at a time.The subsequent failure however is ANYTHING but gentle,all that energy is released in a rapid vertical swing.This only becomes a problem if the joints are inside the car or you have a rescuer working in the lower leg/foot pedal area.It is however a risk I choose not to use on a daily basis when I have so many other options to choose from.Remember that good Firefighters practice risk management,why increase one if you don't have to?Cutting the steering wheel ring usually gets me the additional clearance I need and quicker than setting up for a column lift even with the "column master"tool.T.C.
09-20-2002, 01:37 PM #15
- Join Date
- Mar 2001
I see that all of the techniques for removing the dash/steering wheel from a patient will do the job. In extrication there is not one technique but a good, better, and best ideas for the situation at hand. Steering column pull is a proven technique when preformed properly. Much of the information on the column failing have occurred when the column was overly pulled. Remember, we only need to move the dash enough to get the patient free not until we reach the limitations of our tools, just because we can. However there are some better ways, as stated earlier in the forum. I prefer the modified dash lift (if possible) using the spreaders at a 90 deg angle to the plane of the car jacking the dash from between the drivers door hinges.
We must not forget to do some simpler things first like bringing the seat back, using the wheel's own tilt steering if applicable, and even removing the steering wheel ring to unconfine a patient.Keep Safe!
09-20-2002, 02:13 PM #16
The more times change the more they stay the same...
Remember taking Hydraulic Rescue Tools back in 1989 (<-- major young buck back then ).
Even back then there was the debate going on over U-joints snapping. Funny thing is, even back then you couldn't find any verifiable information that it ever actually happened.
One of the fire service's Urban Legends? Perhaps.
I still wouldn't needlessly go moving the columns. On the other hand, I've never seen one snap in training (twice a year) or on a call (once in the last decade we had to resort to it -- used to do it more before rams). And at training, all of us I think tend to go for "maximum effect" and see what our tools can do -- where at calls we're usually just looking for inches.
Has anyone here actually, not hearsay, seen one snap either in training or real-life? What were the details?
09-20-2002, 07:49 PM #17
Yes Dal,I have "snapped" about four of them now.Most were Chrysler products FWD(I'm not bashing Chryslers,we just get more of them to practice on)and we weren't hyperextending the column either.There is a very fine line between no failure and failure.When they let go there is a rapid arc of the bottom of the column to the rear of the vehicle.Usually 4 to 8 ".This is where I started looking at the flexible joints in the system,and their weak points.The joints are the weakest point and strength varies by year and manufacturer.Makes a good drill,go to a yard some day and check out the various setups;I think you'll find it a real eye opener.T.C.
09-21-2002, 06:48 PM #18
Excellent comments from all. I especially like the realistic comments from jizumper-5, our Kingston PA friend.
You only move whatever is trapping the person until the patient is readliy removable. In most rear-world cases, that means getting something that has moved inward due to impact back to its' near-normal position. We seem to over-do our rescue efforts in training just because it's cool to do so.
For those of you still hesitant to pull a colum unless it is a "last resort", why don't you pull a column as a 'first-resort" at a training session and see what it's like?
Pull... Pull... and pull some more. Pull until something "happens". I usually can get four complete closing of a full size spreader before the rack-and-pinion column finally disconnects. If you're waiting for some big explosion, you'll be disappointed.
You need to experience the extreme amount of movement that is really necessary to get the dash brackets or the knuckle joint telescoping sleeve to finally disconnect. It is far beyond reality for a real-world incident. All this movement is predictable every inch of the way.
The only time this amount of column movement would actually be necessary would be if an elephant were driving the car. Pull until the fat lady sings!
09-30-2002, 06:06 AM #19
09-30-2002, 06:37 PM #20
Dwight is spot on- there's plenty of cars out there that a pull can still be done on quite quickly and effectively.
We've NEVER stopped, nor will we, training our members to Pull, Push and Roll. They all work and all have their advantages and disadvantages....Luke
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