The Pickup Truck "Autopsy"

The purpose of this two-part article is to provide you, your rescue personnel and your department training officer with an increased awareness of the unique rescue challenges presented by pickup trucks. Pickups have features and equipment that differ from what we are used to with typical automobiles. In this "University of Extrication" feature presentation, step-by-step procedures are detailed so departments may conduct effective hands-on training with acquired pickup trucks. If a pickup can be obtained for training purposes, this extrication information will allow crews to maximize their hands-on skills training.

Photo by Ron Moore
The higher ground clearance of full-size pickups may require that step chocks be placed on cribbing. Note effective placement on the frame rails.

Photo by Ron Moore
Tires that are 17 inches or more in diameter should be chocked with actual wheel chocks designed for such applications.

Pickups have become increasingly popular in recent years. In fact, of the nearly 15.2 million vehicles purchased in the United States in 1997, four of the top 10 most popular were pickups. Ford Motor Co.'s F-Series pickup, with sales of 746,111 vehicles in 1997, has remained the best-selling vehicle in America for the past 16 consecutive years. Ford averaged selling one F-Series pickup every 40 seconds of every single day throughout the entire year.

The second-best-selling vehicle in America in 1997 was also a pickup truck, the Chevy C/K model. The seventh-most-popular vehicle sold in the U.S. was the Dodge Ram. Holding down 10th position was the Ford Ranger pickup. Totaled together, these four pickup models sold almost 2 million models in the United States in 1997.

This article is illustrated with color photos depicting rescue evolutions performed on 1998 model year GMC Silverado Z/71 pickup trucks. Each truck was equipped with all standard equipment and had the extended-cab feature complete with a passenger's side third-door option. The vehicles were donated for this specific educational purpose by General Motors.

Photo by Ron Moore
The Hood Tool is inserted into the grill of the truck. The prongs or forks of the tool straddle the release cable.

Photo by Ron Moore
The Hood Tool is rotated to twist the release cable, causing the hood latch to open.

A complete hands-on training video program of all extrication procedures performed on these vehicles is available from American Heat Video Production, based in Dallas. The two-lesson video program is organized into several segments and comes complete with written training materials. American Heat can be contacted at 800-845-2443. The pickup truck rescue programs are number 732-0050 and number 732-0112.

Pickup Truck "Autopsy" Checklist

The basic philosophy of a pickup truck hands-on training session is to systematically perform as many rescue assignments on this one vehicle as possible. Upon the conclusion of the training, you'll find there won't be much of the truck left. Participants will have accomplished most tasks that can be expected to be needed at an actual crash scene.

To begin the rescue training, our first objective is to explore various vehicle stabilization and hazard control procedures.

TASK A: Stabilize truck on level surface, resting on four wheels.

Our first assignment requires chocking and blocking. Try to get the cribbing deep under the sides of the truck, contacting the full frame rails of the chassis. Crews will suddenly realize that the typical pickup truck sits higher off the ground than an automobile. Normal-height step chocks may not be tall enough to stabilize the truck. Additional cribbing is generally necessary.

Utilize large wheel chocks similar to those used on fire apparatus to prevent rolling of the truck. Pickups typically have larger 17-inch diameter tires. The truck can actually roll right over a small two-by-four-inch block of wood placed in front or behind the tires. Just think, what if you had to stabilize Bigfoot at a monster truck rally?

TASK B: Force hood at front latch.

Gain access to the engine compartment without using the normal inside cable-release mechanism. Work toward the hood latch and attempt to pull the cable near the latch. The Hood Tool, a cable grabbing tool designed by a Tulsa, OK, firefighter is outstanding for this evolution.

Photo by Ron Moore
Note the dual "hot" cables. Be alert for dual batteries in separate locations.

Photo by Ron Moore
If your department's policy is to cut battery cables, cut the same cable twice. This removes a chunk of wire and prevents bare ends from contacting.

TASK C: Disable vehicle electrical system/battery.

It is always desired that we take away the electrical power early in our rescue operations. In the real world this is not always possible. For training purposes, though, this task should be emphasized as to its importance at actual crash scenes. Although the battery was actually removed prior to the start of the training session, crews should simulate that it is still intact. The negative battery cable can be cut or crews can simulate disconnecting it first, followed by the positive cable. It is important that this task become second nature for fire and rescue crews. It is an important safety concern for responders working at the crash scene.

If your department policy is to cut battery cables, always cut the SAME cable twice. This removes a chunk of wire and makes it nearly impossible for the ends of the cable to ever re-contact each other accidentally. If you disconnect and remove the cable at the battery post, insulate it with layers of protective tape so there is no bare metal showing.

Now utilize your available resources to tip the truck onto its edge, driver's side down.

Photo by Ron Moore
The full frame of a pickup truck offers many convenient points for cribbing, chains, winch lines, jacks or rams.

Photo by Ron Moore
A rollover scenario challenges rescuers to properly stabilize the truck in the position found. Where would you crib on this side?

TASK D: Stabilize vehicle on edge.

Along the undercarriage, note the body-on-frame construction and the potential for the bed of the truck to be rather flimsy, offering little support.

When the vehicle is fully stabilized, discuss what worked and what didn't. Tear down the stabilization equipment and have several other crews work with different tools and equipment to complete stabilization in a different manner.

When complete, remove all stabilization equipment and place it back in service in the tool staging area. Now, roll the pickup truck completely onto its roof.

Photo by Ron Moore
A rollover scenario challenge. Where would you crib? What tools or equipment would you use to stabilize the truck?

Photo by Ron Moore
Cribbing along a pickup truck side box area may not be sufficient to support the load if the sidewall is damaged. Use caution.

TASK E: Stabilize vehicle in roof rollover position.

The truck will rest either horizontally or will be engine heavy with the front of the hood touching the ground. Crews begin stabilization of the truck in this rollover position. Again, have several crews try different tools and equipment within your inventory. Discuss what worked and what didn't, then tear down the stabilization equipment and return it to the tarp.

Now, utilize pulling equipment such as a come-along or winch or a local tow truck operator to roll the truck over onto its four wheels. This is difficult because the tendency is for the truck to slide on its smooth roof. Pre-planning by the assigned personnel can control this unwanted action.

Our next skills training assignments concentrate on gaining quick and initial access to the interior of the vehicle. These jobs would allow medics to contact the patients for initial assessment at an actual crash scene.

TASK F: Glass removal - side and rear windows.

Assign one crew to remove all side and rear tempered glass windows and render the window openings safe. Require that each window be removed with a different tool or technique. Do not allow the same tool to be used twice. Typically five tools will be required. Your acquired truck may have separate vent or wing windows. With this configuration there are actually seven different glass sections to be broken out. Be creative and think "sharp pointed." Require that precautions be taken to protect simulated "patients" from any injury due to your glass breaking techniques. Be gentle and remember, safety first.

If you really want to see something neat, place a spark plug inside a small paper bag and smash the ceramic top section with a hammer. Take the small porcelain nuggets out of the bag and throw them at the window glass. You'll be amazed at the results!

TASK G: Glass removal - windshield.

Assign a crew to protect the simulated patient and medic in the front seat of the truck. Have this team completely remove the windshield glass and render the opening safe.

After initial access evolutions have been completed, our training focuses on creating sustained access openings on each side of the truck. We'll want to open, widen and remove the doors.

Photo by Ron Moore
Opening and widening the front door still restricts access to occupants of the extended cab.

Photo by Ron Moore
Removal of the extended cab B-pillar and sidewall opens the rear seat area for extraction. Protect sharp metal objects.

TASK H: Driver's-side front door open at latch.

Have a team simulate that this door has been tried and is found jammed. Utilize your normal rescue tools and techniques to force the door open at the latch side.

TASK I: Widen driver's front door.

Once opened, a crew should be assigned to widen the door on its hinges but not remove it from the vehicle. As the door is manually forced beyond its normal opening arc or as the door is pulled around towards the front fender, pay attention to the opening at the driver's seat area. Rescuers will soon realize that once a front door goes beyond 90 degrees to the vehicle, the actual door opening does not increase significantly. This is important to remember. At a crash scene, it may be just as effective to simply bend the door forward rather than take a longer time to remove it. It's your call.

TASK J: Remove front door at the hinges.

Now to simulate the requirement for total door removal, a rescue crew removes the door completely from the truck.

TASK K: Driver's sidewall removal.

If the acquired truck has a standard cab or extended cab without a third or fourth door, a crew is assigned to work at opening and removing the entire sidewall structure from the front-door Nader latch in the B-post to the rear cab wall. With an extended cab, this is simply multiple layers of thin metal and some inner trim material. It can be completely removed, cut and folded rearward as if it were a door, or cut and laid flat to the ground like a ramp.

If a truck at a crash scene had only one door on each side but had a crew cab rear seat, this task would open the entire sidewall on each side of the truck allowing for removal of the rear seat patients through the side of the truck.

Ronald E. Moore, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is program director for the Fire & Emergency Television Network (FETN) and American Heat Video Productions, located in Carrollton, TX. He is available on-line at and looks forward to sharing additional vehicle rescue information with interested persons via the Net.