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Vehicle Rescue Begins with Leadership

There are specific things the first-arriving officer can do to improve a vehicle rescue’s outcome.



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

The tone drops for a multi-vehicle crash with injuries. When the rescue crew roles, the officer has a distinct set of responsibilities.

When first arriving on scene, the officer must conduct a good size up and paint a picture of the scene. This allows incoming companies to start game planning en route.

To do this accurately, the officer needs to avoid tunnel vision. Start big and get small. That means surveying the general scene and then zooming in to the vehicles and patients themselves. This may involve two different size ups.

The first radio transmission may go something like this:

“Rescue 3 is on scene. I have two upright cars involved, moderate to heavy front-end damage to both vehicles, bystanders are around the vehicles, no additional hazards on the scene. Rescue 3 will have mobile command and accountability and will be investigating.

“P.D. has all southbound traffic blocked and Rescue 3 has all northbound traffic blocked. All incoming companies proceed through the medians.”

The second transmission will then go something like this:

“All patients are out of the blue car. We have two patients trapped in the red car. Make this a working extrication (add any additional resource requests and assignments). Dispatch, we need two ambulances. Rescue 2, when you arrive, begin extrication. Rescue 3 will assume initial patient care.”

Three Ms
When making the initial survey, remember to look for any additional hazards to the crew first and to the victims second. This includes line downs, traffic flows, fuel leaks, etc…

Quickly apply the three Ms — mitigate, manage and monitor. Narrow your vision down from the scene to the vehicles. Identify position, damage and any additional hazards related to the vehicles themselves.

Unstable vehicles through position of rest or hazards (hybrids, fuel leaks, fire) should be identified and the three Ms applied as well. This is like peeling an onion. Continually dissect the scene in layers until you get to the core.

To get to the core and the secondary assessment, the officer must get off the rig and engage the core. I am not a fan of the remote or fixed command concept for the initial company. This takes an essential set of hands and leadership out of the most needed areas and confines it to a command vehicle.

I am a huge fan of passing incident command to the appropriate incoming officer and establishing operational command. The officer has to be fluid in her approach to this and keep her eyes on the prize.

Approach with caution
You must maintain an accurate awareness of where you are most needed. When the officer gets off the rig and approaches the vehicles to investigate, having tools is a must. Those include a halligan, window punch, cable cutters, pliers and a battery powered combination tool — if you don’t have one get one; they are game changers in speed and efficiency.

Think of the secondary assessment as a 360 for a residential structure fire. Move quickly and look for the things to key in on. As you work around the vehicle(s), develop an understanding of the mechanism of injury, the access areas to the victims and the vehicle engineering and attack points.

Approach the vehicle with caution as it may be in gear, ignition on and fuel running. If you identify victims in the vehicle, immediately inform the crew so that they can initiate their response.

Just like many officers shut off the gas in their residential 360s, so should the officers address needed actions at the vehicle 360. These should include victim access and hazards.

To reach a victim, try before you pry. Attempt to open doors. If doors are not viable access points, look to glass.

If the glass is intact, break a pane, ideally directly behind the patient. This allows medics access to the victim in a relatively safe zone and keeps the majority of the shattering glass off of the victim.

Reaching through the driver and front passenger compartments opens rescuers up to impact zones from the dual-stage front airbags. These two airbags have the largest impact zones.

Make the purchase
Once personnel have gotten into the back of the vehicle, a more detailed patient assessment can be performed, the keys can be removed from the ignition, the vehicle can be placed in park, and the victim can be covered with an extrication blanket.

While this can all be done from the rear through the middle of the vehicle, thus avoiding the airbags, it is not always necessary or appropriate. Sometimes, we must reach through the front compartments to access ignition, transmission, hood latches, etc… The key is to do so intelligently and only risk a lot to save a lot.

To mitigate and manage hazards, create purchase points with the halligan at one of the hood hinges. Rescuers often get tunnel vision and attack the objective directly.

In auto extrication, an indirect attack is often far more effective. That’s because modern vehicles have two segments of thin sheet metal for body panels to create inner and outer panels. The panels are glued together with automotive adhesives.

The connections such as latches and pins are getting stronger. Taking a tool to the edge of any modern body panel will almost certainly separate the two panels. This decreases the structural integrity and resistance of the panel, and result in a mess of metal that does not do anything to expose or pop the connection.

With a hood assembly, attacking the hinges by popping them or spreading then cutting them allows the hood to be folded forward. This gains free access to both the battery (if it’s under the hood) and the latch assembly. This is a much more reliable and efficient hood-access process than traditional hand tools or hydraulic tools at the latch.

This is also where having a battery-powered combination tool makes a huge difference. This will significantly speed up the overall extrication time.

If appropriate based on scene resources and timing, de-energize the vehicle and it put it into a safe working condition. If the supplemental crew is arriving on scene, delegate, but this must be the priority before extrication begins.

Now you’re ready to go to work. You need a plan of attack and you need to be a good communicator.

The officer must develop a primary and secondary action plan. The crew should know the verbiage and extrication techniques the officer will use and expects.

The officer should communicate the desired outcome to the crew and let them go to work. Do not micro manage. If you have been diligent in training your crew, they will overcome obstacles and think through the scenario on their own.

Give them a slightly unrealistic timetable to push the pace aggressively but ooze calmness onto the scene.

Be hands off
A secondary action plan should already be forming in your mind. Coordinate with EMS and support personnel and put everyone to work on the same page.

Officers become less effective at implementing the action plan if they have tools in their hands. This is not always possible due to manpower or expertise constraints.

If you find yourself with a tool in your hand, keep your head on a swivel and know that you are responsible for far more than the task you are about to perform.

Extrications often unravel when rescuers start rushing and stop progressing with their spreads and cuts in an organized fashion. There should always be a sense of urgency, but there should never be a sense of chaos.

Keep two tools working at all times and keep the scene clean. Get nonessential rescuers out of the way. If the action plan is not manifesting the way you expect, know when to intervene and either give technical guidance, leadership or redirection to the secondary action plan.

Good officers can always hone their team skills through training and street experience. It is important not to duplicate bad habits or failures. Always critique your own efforts as well as the crews and always walk away from it with things to improve upon.

There is no such thing as a perfect event and every event is different. Create a culture within your crew of embracing that truth, but always striving for perfection.

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.

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Picket Anchor System, Rope Rescue

Pickets have many different uses in the rescue side of the fire service.



Picket Anchor Systems

Pickets have many different uses in the rescue side of the fire service. Below are the basics of pickets used as anchor for rope rescue.

  • Pickets are typically made of 1″ diameter rolled steel that is 4′ long.
  • The pickets should be driven 2′-3′ into the soil (2′ in stable soil and up to 3′ in unstable soil) at a 15 degree angle away from the planned load.

When connecting the pickets, use a 20′ piece of webbing or 1/2″ utility rope.  Connect the base of the read picket with a clove hitch and wrap the webbing or rope to the top of the forward picket up to 6 times (finish with another clove hitch).  Use a piece of wood or rebar or another picket inserted between the wrap to twist the pickets.  Tension until the forward picket starts to move, then back off one half turn and drive stake into the ground.

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Rescue Products

Large Animal Rescue

Large Animal Rescue can happen anywhere. Police horses are commonly used all over the United States for many different events.



Large Animal Rescue

Many departments may believe that their response areas are not rural so a Large Animal Rescue (LAR) call may never happen.  However, large animals are transported throughout the country in urban, suburban, and rural areas. This doesn’t mean that every department needs to run out purchase all the LAR equipment and send all their personnel tech training.  It means you should have an awareness level of large animals, the trailers they are transported in, and the equipment used in LAR.

Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue (TLAER TM)

Below is the mission statement of the Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue:
TLAER, Inc. works to provide education and outreach nationwide and internationally for emergency responders (whether local, state or organizational) in safer and more efficient ways to prevent prepare and respond to large animal incidents on our highways, communities and facilities, based on cutting-edge research and development.

TLAER courses are offered at the Awareness level (interested personnel from all organizations and response levels,) Operations level (hands-on, intense training events with live horses intended for live responders,) and Technician level (for USAR teams only.)

Rescue Systems



LAR News Articles

Updated LAR Rescue:

The Facebook post below is from a Large Animal Rescue where the hind leg of the horse was stuck in a hole.

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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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