In past weeks I have spent time in several different countries discussing heavy rescue. Of course the most popular concept of heavy rescue is dealing with extrication from trucks on the road. While I understand that in larger terms, heavy rescue also applies to other incidents such as railways, the context for my discussions were relating to large vehicles on the public highways.
Larger size, larger capacity
During my career as a firefighter my service dealt with heavy rescue by having resources on a specialist vehicle, which would be mobilised to such incidents in addition to a ‘normal’ fire truck with rescue capability. Back then, as now, the popular model was to have tools which where larger in size and capacity. Often, this included having a larger opening on spreaders and rams, and increased cutting force to deal with construction. But, and here is my question, should this really be the case?
Of course my opinion is formed by my operational career, which was predominantly at locations incorporating motorways and by the fact that I often attended this type of incident. I recall very rarely, if ever, did I as a crew member or incident commander require tools with increased capacity. Indeed the overwhelming majority of incidents were dealt with using the equipment from the regular front line truck. I do of course accept that additional equipment is required for stabilization and/or lifting but let’s, for now, focus on hydraulic rescue tool requirements.
Do larger vehicles require larger tools?
Most people I spoke to naturally assume that larger vehicles require larger tools. Whilst larger tools such as rams are a definite requirement, I would consider the following:
1. Upon arrival, rescuers are immediately working at height. Larger tools are (by design) heavier and although they have increased hydraulic force, smaller tools will easily perform the required task whilst reducing the physical burden.
2. Vehicle dimensions are larger on an undamaged vehicle. Post collision, where the driver is mechanically trapped, the intrusion will likely be so severe that the actual length requirement of a hydraulic ram may not be so great. A shorter ram equates to less weight and, again, less burden.
3. As there is no statutory requirement for trucks to be submitted for crash testing (although some crash testing is carried out) my experience leads me to believe that their construction is no stronger than that of smaller road vehicles. So it is highly likely that a medium sized, lighter cutter will perform the required task. Once again, easier to use and limiting the physical burden on the operator.
4. Finally consider that any rescue of this nature requires the operator of rescue tools to effectively operate in a confined space. Tool dimensions are critical in order to gain access and work safely and effectively.
There is no doubt that preparation for heavy rescue requires a great degree of thought. However, I do witness a lot of ‘this is the kind of heavy rescue set we have always had’ kind of sentiment. This is not wrong, far from it. Nevertheless I would urge rescuers to look critically at the kinds of applications they can expect to be faced with and relate that to the size, weight and hydraulic capacity that they require from their tools. The truth is, times have changed and with high-performance rescue tools being available now in smaller sizes and at a lower weight, the biggest tool is not always the right weapon of choice.
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