Thread: Plasma Cutters

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    Default Plasma Cutters

    I would like to hear some thoughts and opinions on plasma cutters being used for extrication.
    Personally, i think the plasma cutter has its place, but extrication may not be its right place. It can only cut up to .5 inch, and the ground clamp has to be connected to the vehicle, and then the current ends up traveling through the vehicle. Another Con is it has to have a good power source, it uses as much power as the typical welder, and that's not always available on the scene. But that thing sure will fly through sheet metal!

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    I've only played with a couple, so I still reserve judgement. While they do cut very fast, and produce very little heat to the object being cut, they also produce a BUNCH of sparks. I don't think this would be appropriate at the majority of accident scenes. I guess it could be used to cut a guardrail if push come to shove, but I beleive my first option would be something else.
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    Default NO WAY!!!!!!

    I am an industrial maintenance mechanic and use plasma cutters fairly often. There is no wat I would advise their use as a matter of course. To many sparks,(as previously mentioned)and the idea of charging the car when you pull the trigger. Hmm... gas, airbag systems, seat belt tensioners, etc...... There are to many veriables that could bite you in the butt!!
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    I agree with the points mentioned above. The only place i could see a plasma cutter being used is for something like cutting a gaurdrail, but then you could still use a cutting torch, or reciprocating saw. Personally i dont think the plasma cutter will ever have a place in fire/resuce, but i still wanted to hear some opinions on it.

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    I would have to agree with Wayne about using them directly on the vehicle. I read another thread in this forum some time ago about plasma cutters. This previous thread discussed using it on a guardrail when a cut very close to a patient was necessary. The pro in this case is the minimal heat transfer.

    Sparks are going to an issue with most tools capable of cutting a guard rail, except maybe hydraulic side cutters. Ever actually try a recip saw a guard rail? Even with a great blade its a tough cut at best.
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    Are plasma cutters and exothermic torches the same thing?
    Richard Nester
    Orrville (OH) Fire Dept.

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    Nope.

    Plasma cutters work by sending an electric arc through a gas that is passing through a constricted opening. The gas can be shop air, nitrogen, argon, oxygen. etc.





    Exothermic cutting torces on the other hand, use consummable rods (metals such as magnesium, etc,) and medical-grade oxygen, and a 12-volt source to ignite. As long as you have oxygen and rod, you can cut. I think NAJO's operates at around 8,000 degrees F, and they claim no lateral heat transfer. Sorry I couldn't find a good diagram of one. Ambu/NAJO make one for rescue use, as well as Arcair's Slice Pack.



    I have not used either one, but am actively researching cutting torch options. I am leaning towards the relative simplicity and effective exothermic torch. It would be great to have a hands-on session with the different types to compare apples to apples.
    Last edited by Resq14; 12-28-2002 at 01:18 AM.

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    I have owned a Plasma cutter for about 5 years in my shop. Never really knew how it worked until that excellant graphic by Resq14. But I do know that it is the neatest "Tim Allen" tool you can get. I use it hard making the "Zama Points" and cutting the bottom radius for the Ground Pads. 1/8 inch steel cuts like soft butter and leaves very little slag behind. Mine will cut up to 3/8. All you need is 70 pounds of shop air and current, mine will run on 110 or 220. There is no doudt that it will easily take all automotive sheet metal and many heavier componants. But with the spark factor, and limited line length I really don't see it as a extrication tool. Too many burnable pieces parts nearby such as carpet, headliners, and plastics for me to be comfortable using it around trapped people. BUT ..... not a bad idea for the trick bag for that every now and then "challenging" call. Maybe the guard rail, maybe the garbage truck or box truck (with proper fire protection in place), maybe the industrial rescue call, maybe the security gates or bars, maybe construction or ag equipment. I can think of a few calls in the past where it could have been safely used. If you never saw or used one just swing by your local weld or fabrication shop and ask to play with one, they are argghh argghh tools big time. By the way, mine cost around $1200. Not the biggest but one of the better models, I needed that for shop use. we could probably get away with the smaller less expensive hobbist models, for maybe around 600-800. My opinion .... I give then a firm "Maybe". Depends on the situation and expertise of the operator.

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    Ok... not to get totally off topic... who has some opinions comparing exothermic and plasma torches for rescue use? The exothermic has been recommended to us by a neighboring department, but I do not think anyone around here has a plasma torch. Having not used either one, I have no clue. Does the exothermic torch also produce sparks like the plasma torch?
    Richard Nester
    Orrville (OH) Fire Dept.

    "People don't care what you know... until they know that you care." - Scott Bolleter

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    Richard, I bumped up a prior discussion on torches in the Extrication section. Some good info from users there. Check it out.

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    Plasma torches are a finness tool, not a blunt instrument. They do extremely well cutting through thin metal,especially non-ferrous, but I think a doubled up section of guard rail would be beyond their limit. They require both power and compressed air (or other gas) and are very expensive (relative to other cutting options). The idea of their utility in a light rescue truck is akin to using a laser scaple to cut your steak, sure it would work, but there are a lot easier and cheaper ways to eat your steak.

    One other down side to plasma-arc's which I have not seen mentioned, they do not cut through non-conductive materials, things like lexan, brick, and body plastic (while you probably not want to use a torch to cut this stuff, with actcy-ox and exo it's an option). On the plus, a plasma will go through stainless and aluminum, but those are metals we rarely need to cut in the field. Unless you need to dice and slice a Delorian I doubt we'd find it very usefull.

    The old reliable gas-axe is cheap, portable, and only requires medium experiance to use it correctly. An exo-torch is more expensive, but even easier to use. In all cases, they are fire hazards, they make heat and sparks, and therefore should not be used around fuel spills, not that we ever have to worry about that, now do we boys?

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