How to Create & Improve an In-House Vehicle Extrication Technician Course

Aug. 16, 2011

The New Orleans, LA, Fire Department has been building an in-house vehicle extrication technician course for the better part of the past decade. Along the way, we have picked up a few hard-earned lessons to pass them along to anyone thinking of creating or improving a vehicle extrication course. Please keep in mind that these are the minimum factors to consider when building a course.

• Set a standard. There is a great deal of variance in the quality of extrication classes given across this country. Some are PowerPoint marathons, many are “war story” reminiscences and quite a few are very good, challenging courses with plenty of hands-on training. A quality course should meet an established, quality standard. I’m not a big fan of saying, “This is the only way to do things,” but the only quality standard I have found is National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1006, Standard for Technical Rescuer Professional Qualifications. The chapter on Vehicle and Machinery Rescue is broken down into 15 job performance requirements (JPRs)that specifically state the knowledge and skills that must be taught to train someone in that JPR. The chapter is broken into Level I requirements for common passenger vehicles and simple machinery and Level II requirements for commercial heavy vehicles or large machinery.

• Qualify instructors. Those who cannot do, teach? I have found this to be fundamentally untrue. Our instructors are all members of heavy technical rescue squads with at least five years’ experience. We give them strategic guidance through a lesson plan and a training plan, but allow them a good deal of tactical freedom when conducting practical applications. We want our instructors to be certified in Fire Instructor I from Louisiana State University. When we bring new instructors on board, each works under a veteran until that instructor and the special operations training coordinator agree that the new instructor is ready to fly solo.

• Conduct plenty of hands-on training. Some professions can be taught in the classroom. Vehicle extrication technician is not one of those. You can talk all day about “purchase points” and “Nader pins,” but letting your future rescuers tear a door apart fruitlessly because they are not getting anywhere near said pin is a lesson that will stay with them for life. The instructor can enhance the lesson by pointing out that the student is wasting time that an actual patient may not have. We put our people in the classroom for a half-day. After that, it’s practical application for three days. We have found this to be a successful formula.

• Make the training progressive. We assume we are starting out with a blank slate. Our students may have received prior extrication training from another agency, but rarely is there confirmation of the quality of the training given. We start our practical applications by teaching the students seven basic disentanglement techniques carried out on relatively pristine vehicles (see page 108). On the morning of day two, the students work a scenario based on a simple car-vs.-car setup. The cars have minimal damage inflicted by our training host. As the training progresses, the scenarios (and the damage) get more and more difficult. The last scenario on the last day scenario requires about 1½ hours to complete. This gives the students a foundation on which to master the progressively harder challenges. Each mastered challenge increases the students’ confidence and skills.

• Make friends. The New Orleans Fire Department has been using Bill’s Auto Wrecking yard to conduct extrication training since the first training session. Over the years, we have built up a productive relationship with them. Our training coordinator contacts their operations manager about a month before the class and maps out how many and what type of vehicles will be needed each day. On the day of the class, the instructor comes in early to discuss placement and damage points with the yard’s forklift operator. His experience in working with us over the years has led him to become quite the artist in creating vehicle accidents to the necessary standards. When we progress to the Level II stage, we get a great deal of help from Bob Kingsmill and his heavy-wrecking service. He has worked with us for years and brings a great deal of expertise to our training table. He has also assisted in finding heavy vehicles for the Level II courses. Obtaining these types of vehicles is usually the most difficult part of making the class possible.

We invited New Orleans EMS, which has its own technical rescue squad, to join forces with us for our class this year, and what a boon that was. They brought a well-developed PowerPoint presentation to the program and, more importantly, brought fresh viewpoints and techniques to our curriculum. We also contact local vendors so that our students get a chance to work with a variety of extrication tools. Diversifying your training partners will enhance the quality of the class as well as making it a great deal easier to plan and execute.

• Don’t just bust up cars. Vehicle extrication scenes are quite chaotic and need a great deal of control. This needs to be emphasized continuously during the course. We allow our students to concentrate on their techniques when working their seven basic techniques on the afternoon of day one. After that, everything is scenario-based and students must establish control zones and staging areas, and conduct hazard identification and mitigation, resource control, and implement the incident command system. We have always kept our students focused on the fact that they are there to get a viable patient out of a mass of tangled, twisted steel as quickly, safely and efficiently as possible.

• Document, document, document. You will be doing your students a great disservice if you do not create a set of documents that tell the world exactly what those students were taught. I am leery of certificates proclaiming that a student has attended a 40-hour course. Forty hours of what? Our certification states that the student has mastered vehicle extrication to the Technician II level in accordance with NFPA 1006. In addition, we have a lesson plan that states what portion of that plan supports the individual JPRs of the standard.

We have a training plan that gives the instructor guidance on what will occur on each day of instruction, outlines the minimum items to be covered in the safety briefings, and covers the inclement weather plan. Each student takes a written test that documents which group of questions covers each of the JPRs of NFPA 1006. The instructors fill out a practical-application score sheet on each student that shows what evolutions were performed to meet the job-performance requirements. These records are kept on file indefinitely at the fire department training academy. Our students can prove to any department in the country that they have met a nationally recognized set of standards.

When I look back at the classes we held 10 years ago, I see that there has been a great deal of growth and improvement over those years. We have built a training team that produces a well-planned, well-executed class that turns out technicians prepared to conduct extrication operations on a par with veterans on the technical rescue squads. We have also developed a refresher program to help students maintain these perishable skills over the years.

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Anyone who would like a copy of the documentation used to develop our program may contact me at [email protected].

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