Gratuitous Destruction

I mentioned in my last entry that we’d be having a class this morning on vehicle extrication.  After giving us an overview of the equipment and procedures, they let us loose on an unsuspecting automobile.

Here’s our victim, being used to demonstrate the fire department’s airbag (which is capable of lifting a train car or flipping this little car over, although they didn’t want to do that for us, since it would make too much mess):

After stabilizing the car using blocks (this is done to prevent the car from bouncing, which could potentially cause further injury to the person trapped inside if they have a neck injury), we then began with a lesson on how to break the tempered glass on the car (the antenna turns out to be a handy tool for this).  After that, we went to work on it with the hydraulic cutter and spreader, taking off the roof and doors.  Finally, a hydraulic ram was used to push up the dash to get it out of the way (as would be needed in an extrication where the person might be pinned). 

After all was said and done, all the parts were thrown back onto the victim in preparation for removal:

And here we have the crew responsible for this mayhem:

As you may notice, we are all wearing bunker gear.  This was necessary for protection from broken glass, sharp metal, and not least the potential danger of the equipment itself.  The cutters and the spreader are powered by a hydraulic pump which produces 10,500 psi.  If one of those hoses were to break, the fluid would be very dangerous to anyone who isn’t protected.  Despite that, though, it was a lot of fun to get to play with this equipment.


  1. John Davies says:

    What are they telling you about how to handle hybrid cars? I’m considering getting one in a few years, but I’ve heard that they may put firefighters in danger.

  2. The firefighter who taught the class was definitely aware of the problems with hybrid cars.  He pointed out that most of these types of cars have the main wires from the battery pack running through the frame.  He specifically mentioned that the Prius has 140-volt lines running along the frame.  But as long as they’re aware of the problem they can work around it.

    From what they were saying, there are a lot of hazards in modern cars for the firefighter.  The biggest are the airbags, especially since some of the side-impact bags have gas canisters in the doors.  Additionally, the regular airbags can have capacitors that can allow the airbags to deploy in some cases up to 30 minutes after the battery has been destroyed.

    They’re always training to understand and mitigate the new hazards they face.  As there are going to be more and more hybrid cars on the streets, it’s something they’re going to have to deal with more often.  Really, their biggest problem is getting the information ahead of time, since the automakers don’t tend to think about firefighters having to cut apart the car.

  3. John Davies says:

    That’s good news. I would hate to endanger someone trying to help me.

  4. Kevin White says:

    Wow, the “jaws of life” et al really split that thing in half.

  5. Yep, that little car never had a chance.  Once the roof is gone, the car doesn’t have a lot of structural integrity left.  Add in a few strategic cuts (to help ensure the car will bend in the right place) and the ram didn’t even seem to notice there was a car there (I think the ram generates something like 40 tons of force, certainly more than a little Cavalier can handle).