Battery-powered extrication tools: 6 things to ask

They are getting lighter, more powerful and more portable; here's what to know before buying battery-powered extrication tools

In the beginning there was the Hurst Hydraulic Rescue Tool — the Jaws of Life — and extricating patients from motor vehicle crashes has never been the same. 

Sure, hand-operated hydraulic porta-power tools, like spreaders and rams, had made their way out of the auto body repair shop and into the early rescue tool inventory for many departments. But the introduction of the Hurst Rescue Tool was a transformational moment in vehicle extrication.

In the 40 years since the Hurst, a growing number of manufacturers have continued to refine and improve upon that original two-part system that consisted of a 32-inch hydraulic spreader powered by a two-cycle gasoline power unit.

While the number and types of cutters, spreaders, rams, etc., have increased over that time, there also have been big advances in how the tools are powered.

First, there came quieter and more powerful four-cycle engines. Next, came the first generation of electric motors — with current supplied by apparatus-mounted or portable generators. Now, battery-stored power can power the hydraulic power plant, or it can directly provide power to the individual tool.

What's on the market
You've heard the adage, "It's not the size of the dog in the fight, but rather the size of the fight in the dog?" Ogura says its BC-300 Battery Combi-Tool cuts, pulls, crushes and spreads metal like the big boys, yet it weighs in at 31 pounds.

With its electro-hydraulic pump system and 18-volt lithium ion battery, it's powerful enough to produce 74 psi of crushing force at the tips, 82 psi of spreading force at the tips, and 445 psi of cutting force.

The Genesis E-Force family of rescue tools combines a tool, such as the spreader or cutter, a micro-pump, a mini hydraulic fluid reservoir, an electric motor and a Milwaukee M28 lithium ion battery to create a battery-powered hydraulic rescue tools. The company says that this true hydraulic system avoids the loss of cutting and spreading forces that can occur in battery-powered tools.

The Holmatro BCU product line is a switch-hitter in the electric rescue tool world. A tool can be operated using its 24-volt DeWalt NiCD or NiMH battery — located on the tool — or from a locally available battery source like the 12- or 24-volt batteries found in passenger vehicles, trucks or rescue vehicles. The cordless model of cutters weighs 32 pounds including the battery pack.

The Hurst P 600 OE is a 10,000 psi power unit that provides mobility for all Hurst cutters, spreaders, combis, and R410 and R412 rams. Hurst's energy management system enables the P 600 OE to provide power for 90 minutes of typical use from a single battery.

The unit has a backup cord for operational periods that exceed the battery's capacity. The P 600 OE provides for a quieter extrication scene — 67 dB(A) unloaded, 75 dB(A) loaded — and no exhaust fumes.

Every tool in the Lukas eDRAULIC series of battery-powered rescue tools uses the same battery source. All tools with eDRAULIC technology deliver enough power for a 30-minute rescue operation, enough to rescue people from at least one vehicle.

Rhyno's Windshield Cutter will safely, effectively and efficiently remove laminated glass to gain access to injured occupants. Don't just think windshields. In 2013 automobiles, glass laminates are used for rear windows in as much as 30 percent of all passenger windows. By 2018, federal regulations will require that all vehicle windows be laminated. 

Rhyno claims that the Windshield Cutter keeps the majority of glass debris outside of the vehicle and minimizes airborne dust, both of which are good for patients and rescuers alike.

PowerHawk has incorporated Curtiss-Wright aerospace gear technology into its P-16 Rescue Tool to multiply the internal 12-volt DC motor output torque 5,958 times to produce 72,000 inch-pounds of output torque at the power head using no hydraulics.

The P-16 uses ball-detent pin connections to give rescuers a handheld electric power tool that can spread, crush and cut as necessary with its quick-change spreading and cutting attachments. The unit also has a power head that swivels 70 degrees for around-the-corner operations.

Purchasing committee
Firefighters and officers have been known to struggle at times with change, particularly when the change involves equipment that they use daily. When making equipment acquisition decisions, a proactive department will bring together a committee of people who will actually be using equipment.

Really progressive fire chiefs will also ensure that such a committee has good guidance and direction before and during their work so that they understand these factors.

  • The budget they have to work within.
  • The local and state purchasing regulations and requirements, for example what they can or cannot do in their interactions with vendors and manufacturers.
  • The ethics of doing product and vendor research, and how to deal with offers and incentives from vendors or manufacturers.

Those last two are very important because the rescue tool sales world is ultra-competitive and your committee members may not have purchasing experience or experience working with vendors and manufacturer's representatives.

Most sales representatives are very knowledgeable about their product. And even if they have firefighter experience, they will not know your department's specific needs. But your people, the end users, will.

There are key topics that your committee should cover when interviewing rescue tool sales representatives:

  1. Warranty: Ask about conditions of coverage and length of coverage.
  2. Service recommendations: Get recommendations for weekly and monthly operator inspections as well as annual service requirements.
  3. Vendor commitment: Ask loaner tool availability and technician repair response time.
  4. Compatibility: Ask about adding tools to the existing system regardless of make and operating pressure (5,000-10,000 psi) for old and new tool systems.
  5. Capabilities: Ask if the tools can cut modern vehicles and their high-tech metals such as boron.
  6. Ergonomics: Examine the tools for weight balance and user comfort.

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