Fire truck driver's role at a vehicle crash

The apparatus driver play a vital, yet an almost opposite role of the officer when the rig arrives on scene


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. 

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