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Editor’s Note: This is the second of three installments that will look at auto extrication responsibilities, tactics and techniques. Each will progress through the on-scene timeline of an upright passenger vehicle.

Last month we covered the officer’s responsibilities on the scene of a basic vehicle crash. Now we’ll delve into the driver’s responsibilities.

Obviously, the first priority is to make it to the scene without incident. While en route, the driver should be processing all of the information he can about the location and nature of the event.

Take into account the full assignment to ensure that the right decision is made on initial apparatus placement. While pulling up, the officer and the driver should survey the scene for any evident hazards around the primary scene.

The first known hazard will always be traveling vehicles. The speed of the vehicles and their time to visualize the event and stop must be considered. Blind turns and fast moving thoroughfares present some of the greatest hazards.

Rig placement
I am a huge advocate of blocking as many lanes as possible. Traffic inconveniences are not nearly as important as protecting the firefighters and the victims.

Place the apparatus where it is highly visible and far enough away from the working area that if struck it will not impact the primary scene. The caveat is that the apparatus must also be placed to maximize tool and equipment deployment. This dichotomy requires a balancing act.

If your apparatus has plumbed tools and power plants, try to place that compartment on the interior of the protected zone. We don’t want rescuers going to the unprotected side of the apparatus to pull tools and hoses around the rig.

The other component to apparatus placement is to maintain flexible lanes for other incoming essential pieces such as EMS or secondary rescues or engines.

Additional hazards will include utilities, compromised utility or road features, and any environmental considerations. Environmental hazards even include lack of lighting. Think about illuminating the work site and your available resources.

Rescue priorities
The survey assessment then shifts to the interior scene. Most department SOGs require suppression capabilities to be in place during extrications. Combination apparatus such as engine/rescues provide great assets, but also place a strong burden on the driver. Wearing two hats, pump operator and rescue driver, can create some internal conflict with decision making.

My recommendation is to prioritize actions based on the presentation. If the most pressing hazard to the rescuers and victims involves fuel and combustion, then get a line charged first.

If the most-pressing hazard involves extrication, then support the extrication operation first. If the choice is made to go into extrication mode first, the driver can produce other rapid resources to address fire hazards. Extinguishers and water cans can be effective band-aids or even permanent solutions depending on the hazard.

Additionally, if the rig is a dedicated rescue, extinguishers may be the only option. Extinguishers also provide the distinct advantage of fuel specific agents. When dealing with hybrids or vehicles with reactive materials, water is not the solution.

Remember to apply the three Ms (mitigate, manage and monitor) as the driver when addressing all of these potential hazards.

Doer to overseer
Once the hazards have been addressed, the driver can support the extrication effort. I view the driver as the resource officer. His primary job, initially, is to provide a working tool cache to perform the extrication operation.

As the rescue sequence plays out, his primary job is to keep the cache operating. This is a seamless shift from doer to overseer to some degree.

This is almost the opposite of the first arriving officer who establishes mobile command, gives directives, turns over command to secondary resources and becomes a doer as part of the company. Their focus changes from managing the scene to managing their company-level tasks.

A rescue driver’s initial focus is on company task of providing a working tool cache. The secondary focus is on overseeing the logistics of the operation to keep the equipment running, identify additional needs and direct helpers to acquire those needs.

The best driver
If multiple companies are not part of the equation, as a driver, prepare to get your rear end kicked. You have an ominous workload in front of you.

The best rescue drivers are omniscient. They have a strong understanding of the techniques and tools of the company. They can assess the scene and intelligently predict what is going to take place.

The best driver takes a proactive approach that is performed with implied communications. That means the crew is not telling the driver every single thing they need.

Instead, the crew goes to the cache area and the tool they want is running and waiting for them. This level of efficiency is only achieved through repeated training, crew cohesion and experience.

Extrications can be broken down into three equipment caches. These should be provided to the rescuers in the order that they apply them on scene.

Stabilization cache
This includes step chocks, wedges, cribbing, struts, ratchet straps, winches, chains and chain hoists, and tow hooks. The driver does not need to magically vomit all of this onto a tarp before things get rolling. The driver needs to provide the right quantity and type of equipment for the action plan.

Most crews follow a primary stabilization and secondary stabilization process. This means that four points of contact (step chocks or large wedges) are the first actions taken. Secondary stabilization involves more elaborate solutions such as struts, cables, etc. These are typically only needed for vehicles that are not on all four wheels or are precariously positioned.

While the crew is applying the four points of contact, if secondary stabilization is not the next priority, the driver moves into the next cache. The next cache is driven by the next priority. For example, a pedestrian who is under the car involves a lifting cache priority. A victim trapped in a mangled vehicle is an extrication cache priority.

Extrication cache
This includes all of the tools that move material away from the victim. Unless the tools are manual, they should be viewed as systems. Systems include the power source, the tool, the connections between the two and fuels.

Get the cutters and spreaders to the rescuers first. This will include the pump(s) and required hoses if applicable. This isn’t needed for battery-powered tools.

If the tools are on hot-swap couplings, have the tools ready to work. If the pump is not electric or rig mounted, have additional fuel ready. Combination tools and rams will be the next tools to deploy or place on standby.

Reciprocating saws are additional systems that will most likely be called for. Remember your power source. Get your cords pulled, make sure your generator is running and have additional blades ready to go.

At this point, layout a tarp as the equipment apron. This keeps all of the equipment in a common staging area where it stays clean and out of the way. It also helps with resource tracking. Other resources may include more specialized or infrequently used tool choices such as rotary saws, air chisel systems, and torches.

Lifting cache
If there is no predictable pattern for lifting techniques, the driver is left guessing until direction is provided. Our crew follows a progression that mimics the order in which equipment is already being provided. The scenario always dictates the lifting technique and we bypass steps in the progression when appropriate.

The first attempt will be mechanical-advantage lifts; we use incline planes such as wedges and levers if possible. The initial four points of contact can be converted quickly into lifting points by driving wedges under the load or by driving additional wedges on top of them. This requires nothing but additional wedges from the driver.

The next step is hydraulic lifting. If the hydraulic tool system was already deployed, that takes care of that. The other piece to safe hydraulic lifts is to meticulously capture progress throughout the lift.

The best way to do that is to advance wedges with the lift. That has already been provided because of the first progression.

It is a good practice to start thinking about struts with straps or earth pins or more cribbing if the lift is going to be extensive. This preparatory step is particularly important if your equipment cache includes struts with lifting capabilities.

Delegate and anticipate
The final step is pneumatics or lifting bags. These require a little more time and resource to develop. The system includes an air source, regulator, controller, hoses, shut off valves, and the lifting bags.

The bags also require stable and protective platforms to push against. This means more cribbing, gussets or pads for the bottom and top of the bags. Struts should already be in place, which will provide progress capture. If not, the requirement will be more cribbing.

It is now time to start delegating to your helpers. Keep a close eye on your rescuers so that you can anticipate their next need. Send runners to acquire it. Helpers who are unfamiliar with the rig will require more direction and may end up being more of a distraction than an asset.

Troubleshoot potential problems or additional needs and always try to develop redundancies. Any lulls or down time are perfect times to tackle this. For example, if one reciprocating saw is deployed, get a second one ready and on the tarp.

Focus first on your problematic tools or less resilient tools and systems. If running off a mounted hydraulic platform, always pull a portable platform as a back up and have it running and ready to go.

A good driver starts his preparation with the crew every morning when they check the rig. This is a crew responsibility. Don’t just look at it. Run it, check it, operate it and maintain it.

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.

Heavy Rescue

Large Animal Rescue

Working with their past experince, the Patterson Fire Department’s completed their 4th horse rescue in the past several years.

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Horse Rescue

Per the post from the Patterson Fire Department’s Facebook page:

At 0732, 25th of August 2021, the Patterson fire department was dispatched for a public assist to a local farm. Patterson’s heavy rescue, 22-6-1, arrived on scene and found a 31-year-old male horse, named “Dozer”, in distress. He had apparently fallen and managed to get himself stuck between a rock and a fence line. At first, the crew attempted to assist the horse in getting up by shifting his position. It became apparent that additional equipment was going to be needed to help Dozer out since he had become too exhausted to get up on his own. After some discussion, it was established that the best plan of action was to use a Paratech bipod system. It would be used as an artificial high directional with TU-32 griphoist’s assistance to lift the horse up. With a lot of sweat and effort, the crew was able to lift the horse up onto his feet. After some much-needed fluids and rest, we were happy to see Dozer trot away, unassisted.

An interesting fact, this is Patterson Fire Department’s 4th horse rescue in the past several years, all with successful outcomes.

Photos below from Andrew Akin

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Building Collapse

Rescue Methods BGSU 2021 Rescue Tech Series

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Bowling Green State University State Fire School Certified Rescue Tech

These courses are NFPA compliant and covers all six disciplines of technical rescue operations. Students will utilize the latest and greatest equipment and will put learned skills to the test in intense hands-on scenarios.

General information on the Certified Rescue Technician Program.

Class Schedule

  • Rope Rescue Technician
  • Water Craft Ops / Swift Water Ops
  • Confined Space Technician
  • Vehicle & Machinery
  • Trench Rescue Technician
  • Structural Collapse Operations

Rescue Methods BGSU 2021 rescue tech series with structural collapse ops.

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Quick Tips

Motor City Monday Extrication Tip; Electric Vehicle Battery Pack Reinforcements

As vehicles change, our knowledge must continue to keep pace and expand our mental toolbox.  The extrication tool manufacters have kept pace with their cutters, spreaders, and rams to combact these strong steels. It’s our job to stay

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Electric Vehicle Battery Pack Reinforcements

Like everything in life, vehicles are changing, well vehicles keep changing. World leaders are pushing green vehicles which will increase our interactions with electric vehicles.  First off, let’s look at the common acronyms of several common green and traditional vehicles.

  • BEV = Battery Electric Vehicle
  • PHEV = Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle
  • HEV = Hybrid Electric Vehicle
  • ICE = Internal Combustion Engine

Unlike BEV, PHEV, and HEV, the term ICE refers to the engine itself, rather than the type of car. Normal/traditional gasoline and diesel cars have internal combustion engines.

Electric Vehicles present several challenges to firefighters with battery fires leading the way.  The automakers are designing and engineering extremely strong protective cages around battery packs. We are no strangers finding boron, martensite, and press hardened steels in the pillars, roof rails, and fender wells.  However, in a BEV, the rocker panels and cross vehicle reinforcements will have boron and martensite steels to protect the battery pack from collisions that could comprise it.  In the images below, the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach E has this strong steel in the rocker panels and cross vehicle reinforcements.  The automakers can tie in the strong rocker panels into the front fender wells requiring us to make deep cuts during a dash lift or roll.


The image below shows the different testing vehicles are subjected to and a strong battery cage can not only protect the battery pack, but also the occupants of the vehicle.

As vehicles change, our knowledge must continue to keep pace and expand our mental toolbox.  The extrication tool manufacturers have kept pace with their cutters, spreaders, and rams to combat these strong steels. It’s our job to stay current where the automakers are using strong steel.

Images from several Great Designs in Steel (GDIS) 2021 Presentations.

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