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Vehicle Extrication

5 Steps to Car-on-Car Rescues [Video]

Occupants in stacked vehicles is a challenge for extrication and stabilization; here’s how to do it safely



Consider the following scenario.

You pull up on a freeway assignment in which a sport utility vehicle braked suddenly and a sedan behind it never came off the accelerator. The SUV’s rear axle and wheels are on the sedan’s windshield.

The sedan has moderate-to-heavy front-end damage with moderate dash intrusion to the front occupants. The SUV also has moderate-to-heavy front-end damage as it was forced into the vehicle in front of it, which it tried not to hit by braking rapidly.

There are five steps in this rescue progression.

  • Analyze the loads.
  • Apply primary stabilization.
  • Develop primary and secondary action plans for extrication.
  • Apply secondary stabilization.
  • Implement extrication plan.
  • Analyze the loads

This scenario does not involve the extraordinarily rare grab-and-go event where we swoop in without any stabilization measures and attempt a rescue. The bottom vehicle is relatively stable and somewhat compressed. The top vehicle may be highly unstable and capable of shifting at any moment.

Do a quick load calculation. The average car weighs 4,000 pounds. When assessing the top vehicle, this is an important number to know so that the right equipment is selected for stabilization and possibly lifting.

The majority of the weight of the top vehicle is on the ground with the engine compartment. So, the actual weight that is being applied to the bottom car will be less than half — approximately 1,500 to 2,000 pounds.

This is a really important practice. The next run may be an under ride involving a commercial vehicle. Being disciplined about making quick load calculations will pay dividends towards safe practices.

It’s also important to analyze the possible shifts in the top load. The vehicle naturally wants to shift forward, but there may also be an offset where only one wheel is up on the windshield and the other wheel is hanging in space. This could result in a shift to the side as well.

Apply Primary Stabilization

With the loads assessed, make the scene safe and start stabilizing. The foundation is the most stable part of the structure and the rest of the building process is dependant upon it. Think of the ground as the foundation.

Primary stabilization is the initial and minimum four points of contact to secure the void between the ground and the bottom vehicles. These are step chocks or large wedges and cribbing. Also, chock the wheels or apply winches, chains, cables or ratchet straps to eliminate lateral movement.

Then turn your attention to the vehicle on top and focus on the part of the vehicle at the foundation — the ground. In this scenario, it is the front bumper and front wheels of the SUV. Place inverted step chocks or wedges under the front bumper and chock the front wheels.

There is one caveat. If the vehicle on top is so precariously positioned that it presents a threat to rescuers, make it the first priority.

Primary stabilization also includes hazard management. If the batteries, ignition and transmission can be accessed safely, then do so. If not, this may have to be delayed until additional stabilization is in place. This should be a rarity. Getting to the keys and the shifter must be an initial priority.

Plan for Extrication

While the stabilization is taking place, the team leader or officer should be coordinating with EMS to gain access to the victims. Communicate with EMS personnel to triage patients and start planning.

In this scenario, the victims in the bottom vehicle most likely have entrapment through compressed doors, A post with roof line impingement and dash impingement. The victims in the top vehicle may be entrapped through door compression.

The elevation of the top vehicle will also present a challenge to the crews attempting extrication. This means the load will have to come down or the rescuers will have to go up. This layout of probabilities would require side out techniques and dash displacements.

The extrication sequence should be driven by the patients, with the most critically injured and still viable patients attended first. Remember, have more than one plan. Identify the weak points in your plan and have variables ready for the things that are least predictable.

If the bottom vehicle will require a dash lift, the top vehicle will most likely have to be lifted enough to create a gap for the dash to travel without moving the top vehicle. This plays a huge role in how you apply secondary stabilization to the top vehicle. Make this decision early to avoid a mess later in the rescue sequence.

If the top vehicle requires extrication, a game plan must be in place to allow rescuers to safely perform the sequence at height and remove the patient or the load must be brought down to ground for extrication and removal.

This is most easily accomplished by completing the extrication on the bottom vehicle with the top vehicle suspended and supported. Once the bottom vehicle extrication is complete, pluck it from under the top vehicle with a cable hoist or other appropriate means and then lower the top vehicle to ground.

Apply Secondary Stabilization

Although the top vehicle has a secured connection at the ground, it is unreliable. The high side of the load, which is on top of the windshield, is unsecured and could shift. There are two ways to accomplish this objective and they are separated by the need for a top vehicle lift.

If the top vehicle does not need to be lifted, then it often can be reliably stabilized by simply tensioning it to the ground vehicle. Do this by placing two ratchet straps in an “X” from the left undercarriage of the top vehicle to the right side of the bottom vehicle and vice versa. The attachment or anchor point on the bottom vehicle should not impede the extrication process.

For example, the A post would be an easy choice, but would place the ratchet attachment on a key area of the extrication. Running the straps all the way down to the opposing frame rails of the bottom car may be a better long-term choice if they are accessible.

If the top vehicle needs to be lifted, then it must be stabilized independent of the bottom vehicle. This will require struts. This should also involve a level of integration with the lifting equipment.

An A-frame or bipod are extremely versatile and can accomplish every aspect of this phase with minimal changes in gear. If these are not accessible, apply lifting struts or airbags as part of a system supported by stabilizing struts.

If a lift is going to be performed, both vehicles’ suspensions need to be captured. To do this, connect a ratchet strap to the top of the wheels, stretch it over the hood or rear deck lid and apply tension. This will ensure that the vehicles don’t grow when you start lifting.

Implement extrication plans
Start with your most critical patients, work as a team and keep at least two tools working at all times if possible. Keep a monitoring eye on any lifted loads and ensure that they are captured and secure.

Limit the lifts and dash displacements to only what is necessary. All excessive movements in this scenario increase risk. Typically, the bottom vehicle gets the side taken down and the dash displaced.

Patients are pulled and transferred. As soon as the patients are clear, hook the bottom vehicle and pluck it from the landing zone of the top vehicle. Bring the top vehicle to ground and finish the extrication.

This is a pretty complex rescue scenario. Remember the sequence and take a deep breath.


Dalan Zartman is a technical-rescue curriculum subject-matter expert for the Ohio Emergency Management Agency and Department of Homeland Security. He has also taught more than 100 technical-rescue courses at Bowling Green State University, where he serves as regional training program director and advisory board member. Zartman is a member of and instructor for the Central Ohio Strike Team and the Washington Township Fire Department. He is a certified rescue instructor, rescue technician level II, fire instructor II, firefighter and EMT. Zartman is founder and president of Rescue Methods.

School Bus

HydroFusion Ram

HydraFusion Struts used as ram for a dash roll?



HydraFusion Strut Ram

The HydraFusion Struts were a game changer when PARATECH released the lifting/stabilizing device a few years back at FDIC. Rescuers can lift up to 10 U.S. Tons (9 metric tons) and to stabilize up to 20,000 lbs. with the tool. However, PARATECH’s HydraFusion Struts are not limited to just those two functions. The HydraFusion Struts can move metal!

I first ran across pictures of HydraFusion Struts used as ram from pictures that Brock Archer (Advanced Extrication) and Randy Schmitz ( Founder/Owner of Schmitz Mittz). Last weekend at Crunchtime Extrication, Paratech had one of their trailers at the training event and I had the chance to try a dash roll with a HydraFusion Strut. Take a look at the video below.

A few quick points:

  • You can put the HydraFusion Strut in place to reduce any dash movement during reliefs cuts.
  • HydraFusion Strut are portable and can be moved quickly to a vehicle hundreds of feet of the roadway.
  • Depending on the length of the HydraFusion Strut used, strut extensions can be used to optimize dash movement.
  • Using a HydraFusion Strut as a ram is an option, not always the option.
Below  are a few pictures from the Advanced Heavy Rescue Symposium in Calgary, Alberta, that show HydraFusion Struts used a ram during bus extrication to displace a roof.

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Heavy Rescue

ALBERTA Advanced Heavy Rescue Symposium



Sept 22-23, 2017 Advanced Heavy Rescue Symposium at the CFD Training Academy registration forms ready to be sent out, email me if your interested. Only 60 spots available.



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No Laminated Side Glass in a 2017 Vehicle?

I was sent a message from a firefighter the other night asking about a 2017 vehicle that he found did not have side laminated windows? This firefighter was up-to-date on his knowledge about the FMVSS 226 occupant ejection mitigation requiring laminated side glass in all 2017 vehicles. But how can a 2017 model vehicle have tempered



Laminated Side Glass

NissanI was sent a message from a firefighter the other night asking about a 2017 vehicle that he found did not have side laminated windows? This firefighter was up-to-date on his knowledge about the FMVSS 226 occupant ejection mitigation and laminated side glass. However, the laminated glass is meant more as a supplement to side curtain airbags. The curtains will be made larger so that they cover more of the window opening, made more robust to remain inflated longer, and made to deploy in both side impacts and in rollovers. So that is one reason why a 2017 model vehicle have tempered and not laminated glass.  What is a another? Phase-in periods and credits, that’s how. Let me explain.

The FMVSS 226 phase-in period started on September 1, 2013 and ends September 1, 2017 when all automobiles manufactured must meet the new standard. So, the way vehicle models run, the 2018 models will start hitting dealer floors in the summer of 2017. That means some 2018 models may not meet the standard if those vehicles are made before to September 1, 2017. Confused yet? It gets worse!

Automakers can earn credits for vehicles that do not meet the standard starting with automobiles made from March 1, 2011 and ending at the conclusion of the phase-in, September 1, 2017. So what does that mean? If an automaker made enough vehicles ahead of the September 1, 2017 date, they could sell that number of vehicles into 2017, 2018, and maybe even into 2019 that do not meet the standard. Automakers may use this to extend product of a vehicle that they intend to stop selling or delay developing a new model that meets the standard.

The bottom line is look for larger curtain airbags that stay inflated longer supplemented with laminated or glazed glass. Hope that helps!

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