November 2008 HSFD Fire Dispatch Submitted by Ric Stephenson, Public Relations Chairperson / Featured in The Holiday Time by Monica O'Brien
Imagine driving north on Prairietown Road with cornfields on both sides of the car. It’s dark and the sides of the narrow unpaved road aren’t easily visible. Suddenly, a deer darts out from between the rows of corn and into the path of your car. You slam on the brakes and the car begins to slide toward the culvert. It hits the ditch rolls a couple of times and lands upside down on its roof.
Your legs are pinned underneath the crushed dashboard and the deployed airbag that protected your head from going into the front windshield is slowly deflating. The seatbelt that saved you from being thrown out of the vehicle is now hindering your movement. The deer has vanished into the night and the reality of what happened is just slowly surfacing into what can best be described as a dazed mind.
In what seemed like an eternity, but in reality was only about six minutes, HSFD fire/rescue personnel are on the scene. At first glance, it was obvious to the firefighters that you had to be extricated from the vehicle. Enter the “Jaws of Life,” a trademarked name that is commonly used when referring to piston-rod hydraulic extrication tools capable of prying open vehicles and gaining access to trapped victims.
On a recent September Saturday morning, HSFD fire/rescue personnel trained for such an accident using a variety of extrication tools known as cutters, spreaders and rams. Although the upside down car was not on Prairietown Road, but located behind the fire department, it wasn’t going to be an easy extrication task since trainers had “conveniently” placed the upturned car right next to another disabled vehicle.
At the training session, firefighter Jim O’Brien was the lucky man to have his name drawn to be Incident Commander (IC) for the exercise. I interviewed Jim recently and asked him to lead us through the events of the day as they related to the strategy and tools needed for such a rescue.
Ric: As IC, what do you first take into consideration after receiving the emergency page? Jim: From the very first moment a page comes across, the Incident Commander is looking for information that will help to mitigate the emergency. That information may come in the form of a bystander’s call to 911, an on scene report from another fire fighter, or information sent from other first responders such as an ambulance crew or police officers. The IC need to know what type of emergency it is, how many people are involved, the location, what the urgency is, and a million other small details. The IC is trying to complete a mental checklist so that personnel assignments can be made en route, neighboring departments can be altered if we need assistance, and the IC is as prepared as he or she can be to deal with the emergency upon arrival.
Ric: How are assignments made and what is the standard protocol regarding hoses, emergency bags, and other tools? Jim: Assignments are made depending on what personnel are available. Every member has particular skills, strengths, and aptitudes for performing certain functions. The incident commander’s job is to divvy up the available people into particular jobs and delegate tasks. For instance, if we have an EMT on a responding truck, that firefighter may take charge of patient care. A firefighter with expertise in extrication may take charge of the extrication team. Another firefighter or officer may be put in charge of safety. We have standard operating procedures that dictate how we respond to particular incidents, and what tools we use depends on the circumstances. The first priority is to stabilize the vehicle. Air bags may be used to lift or secure a vehicle while another firefighter uses ‘cribbing’ to hold the car or truck in a specific position. Once things are safe the extrication tools are used to cut, pry, bend and remove parts of the vehicle to gain entry and extract victims. No matter what tools are available though, it’s the skills, knowledge and experience of the firefighters that rescue people and make emergencies go away.
Ric: What are some of the first things that are done when you approach the vehicle and victim(s)? Jim: Members of our department go through a great deal of training to learn how to deal with emergencies. Throughout this training we’re taught to systematically approach an incident and get a few key things figured out such as;
1. Is the scene safe? 2. What is the problem and cause of the emergency/mechanism of injury? 3. How many patients are their? 4. Do you have enough people and equipment to do the job?
A good incident commander will go through this list in seconds as they approach the scene. Once these key items are understood the next and possibly most important thing an IC must do is effectively communicate to everyone what they have with an on scene report. After that, and in particular to car accidents, you want to figure out how to get the patients out of harms way while keeping everyone safe.
Ric: After you have stabilized the situation and determined the medical status of the victim(s), what’s next? Jim: Determining the medical status of the patients and getting them to safety and treatment is our number one priority. The sooner we can get the patient out of harms way and to an advanced care facility the better the outcome will be. As we are able to stabilize or triage patients and remove them from the emergency, our role switches from that of first responders to support of the arriving EMTs and Paramedics that will be on scene ready to provide advanced care and transport.
Ric: Tell me about how the various Jaws of Life function and what determines which one is used? Jim: On our main rescue truck we carry three hydraulic extrication tools; a cutter, a spreader, and a ram. On our smaller rescue truck we carry a combination tool that is a cutter and a spreader. The type of tool we’ll use depends on the situation. In a relatively minor collision we may only use the spreaders to open a door or the cutters to remove parts of the vehicle away for entry and extrication. On a more serious incident where there is significant vehicle damage, we may use all of the tools. For instance, if a patient is trapped and their legs are pinned underneath a dashboard, the cutters, spreaders and ram would be used to get to the victim, ‘roll the dashboard’, and free the patient.
Ric: Once more HSFD fire/rescue personnel accomplished their mission. How do you debrief from such stress? Jim: Well, I’ll let the photos speak for itself.
If you are interested in becoming a HSFD volunteer firefighter, are 18 years of age or older, with a valid driver’s license, stop by the firehouse on Holiday Dam Road on a Monday evening at 7 p.m. or visit or website at: hsfd.org to learn more about our department. You can make a difference in a person’s life.
Dana Blotevogel, Fire Chief Steve Cooper, Asst. Fire Chief