Firefighters, Tow Truck Operators Train Together for Unique Extrications

The Hyattsville, Md. Volunteer Fire Department and towing service Automotive Support from Silver Spring joined for two days of training in car and truck rescue simulations this past weekend.

Three members of the Henrico County, Va. Technical Rescue Team were on the site to assist in the training.

One of the exercises involved simulating a trailered cargo container towed by a semi tractor falling on top of a car and to demonstrate the role of a a heavy lift and firefighters working together at the extrication. Other evolutions involved a car underneath a school bus, and a tractor trailer accident.

They went through three scenarios Sunday, switching teams of six people as they went. Six personnel is typically the number in a crew responding to a typical call.

On the first day crews went through the basic refresher scenarios such as the hoisting and pulling systems. The second day they went through the actual simulations using real vehicles and equipment.

In one of the simulations, it took about an hour to hoist up the container and to get the vehicle out using traditional rescue squad equipment such as air bags, cribbing, and jacks.

But the second time, when the tow truck service Automotive Support was assisting using a heavy lift, they were able to get the "patient" out in approximately 12 minutes. The collaborated effort of both the fire departments and the towing service caused for the increase in efficiency.

"This training exercise is taking place for one always wants to be prepared if one ever encounters a situation such as this," Deputy Chief Thomas Falcone said. "These scenarios are as close as one can get to a real-life situation minus the patient."

Falcone was very grateful for Automotive Support's assistance in the training operation by donating the time of their employees, land and equipment.

In the scenario which simulated a car that drove underneath a tractor trailer. It was important to decide whether or not to get the patient out of harms way or to keep the patient where they were. With the rescue squad and the tow truck company working together they understood each other's missions and capabilities and from that perspective, were able to help one another out.

In discussions after the scenario of the car underneath a tractor trailer, Falcone said the concern was with the load. They worried about the tilt and what could be done to compensate for it.

Jack Hessman, General Manager of Automotive Support said, "Half of the men from my company are trained hazmat technicians which allows them to get into the 'hot zone' with a suit and they have been trained on hazmat awareness meaning they are aware of dangers and are capable of establishing perimeters."

"We have just started to scrape the surface of the cooperation amongst the fire service and the wreck recovery service. It needs to become commonplace as a basic fire service. The wreck recovery services are eager to get involved," Cumashot said.

Cumashot said that his department just began working with cranes approximately four years ago as a result of a fatal accident where they were unable to use the tow truck resources. "It has a great impact on the overall efficiency," he said.

Hessman pointed out a difference he noticed.

"Typically fire departments might cut seatbelts at an accident, but sometimes the tow company can use that as a resource to lift the car, for instance." he said.

Then he demonstrated how the fire department uses a K7000 saw which cuts metal. Automotive Support has a saw called the Evolution 230. The K7000 cut half as much in 45 seconds as the Evolution 230 cut in 15 seconds.

A member of WreckMaster was present during the training. Wreckmaster is a North Carolina company that provides towing and recovery training, safety lessons as well as certification for tow truck drivers.

Eric Staudinger, field instructor from WreckMaster said, "fire departments are shy on using the assistance of training instructors because they do not know who we are".

He further explained that if fire departments realized what advice and tips the towing service might provide to their department, they would more fully understand the necessity to cooperate and coordinate with local towing services.

"Since the anthrax scare, tow truck drivers had to be certified and trained. Tow truck drivers use Class 2 jackets," Hessman said. Class 2 jackets are specialized jackets that are water repellent and use a polyurethane foam insulation according to a safety clothing web site,

"The towing industry has difficulty getting qualified help, but once they are trained they stick around," said Hessman.

"Those in the police department and fire service do not think of the tow truck service until the situation is done. If the tow truck service can do the job then, that's great, but if not it would be ready to clean up afterwards," Staudinger said.

Both Hessman and Staudinger commented how it appears as if the fire department and the wreck recovery services speak two different languages. For instance, what the fire department considers an airbag is what the wreck recovery service considers a mat jack.

It would be valuable to implement a common language amongst the fire service, police department, EMS workers and wreck recovery services, they said.

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