The Aerial, the Stokes Basket & the Machine Rescue

June 14, 2024
When a worker’s leg got crushed in a wood mulcher, the severity of the injury, the victim’s precarious location and the limited space for the rescue made for a complex rescue process.

On June 24, 2023, at 8:23 a.m., the Farmington Volunteer Fire Company (FVFC) from the Egg Harbor Township (EHT) Fire Department in Atlantic County, NJ, was dispatched to the headquarters of the Atlantic County Utilities Authority (ACUA) to “provide a ladder” to assist Egg Harbor Township EMS with removal of a victim from a large industrial machine. The machine was about 50 feet long and 10 feet high and was used for mulching wood.

Within minutes, FVFC Assistant Chief Dennis Sharpe signed on as responding and asked Egg Harbor Township Dispatch for more information regarding the assignment. With the information provided, Sharpe determined that more resources were needed, and the situation would be a technical rescue that would require a special skills set of police, fire and EMS. Sharpe requested the Cardiff Volunteer Fire Company (CVFC) to respond with its Tower 15, which is a 105-foot elevating platform.

On arrival, Sharpe was met by EHT EMT Jasmine Martinez, who apprised that an employee of the ACUA was operating the mulcher when it became clogged with mulch. The employee entered the machine and attempted to remove the mulch that became clogged behind a 2 x 4-foot, 500-lb. steel grate. During his attempt to clear the grate, the grate fell on the employee, fracturing his leg. On arrival, Martinez knew that additional help would be needed and requested the fire department.

On arrival of CVFC Chief Gilbert Zonge and Assistant Chief William Danz III, the scene was assessed, and a rescue plan was put in place for incoming units. Sharpe was incident commander (IC), Zonge assumed operations and Danz was the rescue manager.

Danz accessed the mulcher to confirm that the power was off and determined what action was needed. Through training and experience, Sharpe knew that the victim would need to be packaged and hoisted by Tower 15 and then brought down for evaluation. Operations and the rescue manager agreed, and the plan was put into operation.


The rescue

EHT Police Officer Nathan Lahr and Martinez and fellow EHT EMT Timothy Jackson already tended to the victim via two ground ladders that were placed on both sides of the mulcher. ALS paramedics arrived and started a patient treatment plan that included providing pain medication (to stabilize the victim to prepare for removal), monitoring ABCs and for shock, and staying in touch with the trauma center.

Upon entering the mulcher, Danz determined that there was no entrapment, but the victim was in a precarious spot. He was sitting on a small, metal beam that was about 6 x 4 inches wide. Because of the severity of the leg injury, the precarious location of the victim and the limited space with which to work, aerial operations were required.

Zonge worked with CVFC’s crew to set up the Stokes basket rig on Tower 15. Danz, with the assistance of Bargaintown Fire Company Assistant Chief William Hancock, started to prepare the victim for removal.

The victim was located at the top of the mulcher. A roller in the machine that was used for the mulching operation was freewheeling and needed to be secured to complete the rescue. CVFC Capt. JJ Fricano III accessed the internal section of the machine and secured the roller with ratchet straps and cribbing.

Tower 15 lowered the Stokes basket onto the mulcher, and the victim was loaded by Danz, Hancock, Lahr and EMS. The victim was removed safely by Tower 15, placed on a stretcher and turned over to EMS.

Note: Many other firefighters played crucial roles in the success of this operation.

Lessons learned

Chief officers devising a plan within a unified command system. The cooperation within the EHT emergency services (police, fire and EMS) was crucial to the successful outcome of the rescue.

The level of training that’s provided within the EHT fire department for its members. All personnel involved are trained in high-angle and confined space rescues and have an established technical rescue team (TRT), of which Zonge is the instructor for rope rescue and Hancock is the TRT leader. EHT emergency services are crossed-trained to respond to various types of incidents, including fire, EMS, water rescue, hazmat and extrication.

Obtain clear and concise information while responding to incidents, to make informed decisions, including to have additional resources respond.

Be familiar with the occupancies and equipment if the department has industries in its response area. The Farmington area of Egg Harbor Township is 90 percent commercial-industrial. Hold training exercises to be ready for the real thing.

Egg Harbor Township is a 40-sq.-mi. area in Atlantic County and is protected by a full-time EMS division, full-time police division and a volunteer fire department that consists of five volunteer fire companies. The fire companies operate out of eight stations that consist of three ladders; two water tenders; four squad engines that are equipped with extrication tools; one utility vehicle that’s equipped with various rescue tools, hazmat equipment and an air cascade system; and eight engines.

About the Author

Dennis C. Sharpe

DENNIS C. SHARPE is a 47-year member of the Farmington Volunteer Fire Company in Egg Harbor Township, NJ, where he serves as assistant chief. He is certified in high-angle and confined-space rescues and is a Level II instructor with the Atlantic County Fire Training Center.

About the Author

William Danz III

William Danz III is the assistant chief of the Cardiff Volunteer Fire Company in Egg Harbor Township, NJ.

About the Author

Jasmine Martinez

Jasmine Martinez has been an EMT for nearly 14 years. She began her EMS career at Egg Harbor Township, NJ, EMS. She also worked as a dispatcher.

About the Author

Will Hancock

Will Hancock has been a member of the Bargaintown, NJ, Volunteer Fire Company (BVFC) since 2006. The BVFC is one of the five companies that make up Egg Harbor Township, NJ, Fire Department. Hancock first served as a line officer in 2009 and then rose through the ranks to his current position as assistant chief in 2013. He heads the Egg Harbor Township Technical Rescue Team and has been a Level 2 instructor at the Atlantic County Fire Academy since 2013.

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