Machine Rescues Require Planning And Preparation

BALTIMORE – The key to effective machinery rescue is being prepared for the unexpected and know how to get resources to the scene quickly for the best outcome.

That may be common sense, but that’s the whole point, said Billy Leach Jr., of Asheboro, N.C., who is developer and senior presenter of Big Rig Rescue. Leach was one of the presenters at Firehouse Expo in Baltimore Thursday morning. His presentation of specialized rescue was titled “Machinery Rescue: How to Prepare”.

“The key is to get ready now,” Leach told a conference room packed full of responders eager to learn from the man who is considered a rescue authority. “These things are different. They are going to take time and if they weren’t complicated, you wouldn’t be there.”

Leach readily acknowledged that much of his presentation was based on common sense, but in unless responders think about them in advance, they outcome of rescuing someone trapped in heavy machinery might not be positive.

Machinery can be as straight forward as a tractor in a field with a farmer caught in a PTO shaft, or as complicated as a person who has an arm caught in an auger, or a metal die stamp, Leach said. There are, however, common denominators for machinery rescues and it starts with knowing the challenge and having the resources immediately available in case an emergency hits.

“Without a doubt, your best friend at one of these scenes is a mechanic,” Leach said. And, in order for that to happen, the incident commander ought to know who those with the skills to help are before they’re needed, he added.

Crushing, grinding, cutting, hazmat, chemicals and all kinds of mechanical actions are just a few of the hazards responders face when arriving on a rescue involving machinery, Leach said. Sometimes, the scenes may be remote and isolated, especially in farming emergencies and having the resources to get equipment and help out to the scene is critical to saving the victim.

“A machine rescue doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s a big crowd pleaser,” Leach said, noting that they almost always require resources that go beyond the capabilities of the initial responders.

“They can have extended discovery times, extended response times and extended extrication times,” Leach said, adding that EMS responders often refer to the “Golden Hour” to get victims to the hospital. “You can pretty much forget about that,” he said.

Leach advised the attendees that if there’s a specialized business, plant or factory in their response areas, they should have advance planning meetings with the operators to learn about any specialized tools that might be needed, to located power shut offs and lock out procedures and, most importantly, how to get in touch with people familiar with the equipment who can assist with rescue efforts.

“You need to know what you have and what you can get,” Leach said. “It’s pretty simple.”

Another aspect of being ready is training, Leach said, noting that props are always a good idea and often they can be retrieved from junkyards. Sometimes businesses will have spare parts around too that might be available for training. And, it never hurts to make it realistic, Leach said, noting that hot dogs in gloves and theatrical blood are effective for simulating rescue scenes.

“That’s the reality of what you might face at a machine rescue scene,” said Leach, who illustrated his point with graphic photos of victims who had been trapped in metal lathes, meat grinders and other machines.

When trying to affect a machine rescue, Leach said there are procedures that should be followed. First, responders should try to reverse the machine to free the victim. Second, the victim and/or the machine can be manipulated to free the victim or the extremity. Third is disassembling the machine and, only as a last resort should mechanical force be used to free victims, Leach said.

“What the first thing firefighters grab when they go on a rescue, they grab the spreaders, cutters and rams because that’s what they are used to from car crashes, but that’s not what they need,” Leach said. Instead, Leach said, they should go in with wrenches, pry bars, impact air guns, air ratchets, screwdrivers and other similar hand tools.

Other tools that make sense in the arsenal include portable band saws, reciprocating saws, oxygen acetylene torches, exothermic torches and, if possible, plasma cutters, Leach said.

Responders should also take great care in how they respond and be prepared for anything from slippery surfaces from spilled hydraulic fluid to snow and ice, in addition to respiratory hazards, not to mention things like gravity and stored mechanical forces that could act against the rescue efforts, he said.

Even electrical power, steam and other thermal hazards should be kept in mind as well as simple laws of physics.

And, while Leach didn’t go deep into emergency medical services responses, he said the reality is those who rescue people trapped in machines will be involved in patient care.

Leach said responders need to watch for massive hemorrhage, maintaining airways and breathing, circulation and hypothermia and temperature related injuries.

Hextend, an IV solution that is said to perform much better saline, should be consider as a first choice for fluid replacement. But he offered a caveat.

“If it ain’t red, you’re dead,” Leach said. “Only blood replaces blood.” He commented that there’s a push to have reconstituted plasma administered in the field. He also suggested tourniquets as the military has found them very effective. And, unfortunately, battlefield injuries are not unlike those found in machinery accidents.

Other patient precautions are as simple as keeping the victim warm with hats on heads and thermal blankets.

EMS responders need to be well prepared for the time of release when a patient could lose lots of blood and go into shock, especially from a crushing injury, Leach said.

“If you’re the incident commander, ask your EMS providers if they have a crush protocol in place,” Leach said. “If they don’t, ask them if they can get someone there who could do it.”

Leach concluded by repeating that responders who are well prepared before the emergency will react better than those without a plan.

“I once heard an instructor ask what happens when a fire is an emergency for a fire department,” Leach said, noting he was initially offended by the comment. Years later, he realized the point. “People who call the fire department don’t have anyone else to call, so if you’re not prepared and bring your A game, there’s going to be issues.”