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How to buy extrication tools

Vehicle extrication equipment is among the fastest-changing segment in firefighting equipment; here’s what to do to get the tools you need


Fire departments looking to purchase powered vehicle extrication equipment (PVEE) are faced with a bewildering number of options.

PVEE technology continues to advance very quickly, especially regarding how PVEE tools are powered. Good planning is the key to making a sound purchasing decision to ensure that your department gets the right tools for the job.

The PVEE tools and systems that your department is looking to purchase should be designed and tested according to the minimum specifications of NFPA 1936, Standard on Powered Rescue Tools.

Keep in mind that NFPA establishes standards, but does not do certification testing. Certification testing must be done by a third-party (not the equipment manufacturer) that is accredited to do such testing in accordance with ISO/IEC 17065, Conformity Assessment: Requirements for Bodies Certifying Products, Processes and Services.

Background check

For an initial purchase, take a look at your department’s history of responses to motor vehicle crashes where victims required disentanglement.

Take into consideration a period of at least three years and use a spreadsheet to catalog those responses into these categories: type of vehicle involved, operations required to successfully extricate the victim (cutting, prying, glass removal, etc.), PVEE tools used for the incident, and were those tools readily available from your department or did it require mutual aid.

Such an assessment will give you good information whether you have the right tools and you’re looking to replace a tool, or you lack the necessary tool and you need to acquire one.

This is a good example of data-driven decision making that will help your department make the best decision, both operationally and financially.

Be sure to include not only internal stakeholders (members of your department), but also external stakeholders like other public safety agencies in your community and mutual-aid departments. Your internal stakeholders are a valuable source of information, expertise and experience that can add context to your data collection efforts and further improve your data-driven decision making process.

What’s needed

While it is certainly important for every department to have a basic cadre of PVEE, is it prudent operationally or fiscally for every piece of apparatus in a department to be armed to the teeth with PVEE?

Is it prudent for every department in close proximity to one another to all have the same amount of high-risk, low-frequency and high-cost PVEE when equipment sharing may make more sense for everyone involved?

The planning process is an opportunity to look at your department’s current PVEE deployment strategy — what you have and where it’s located. It’s also an opportunity to evaluate how the sharing of PVEE resources fits into your current mutual aid agreements.

Do your homework before making contact with manufacturers and their sale staff. Buyers are often persuaded by dealer sales representatives.

While their suggestions may be well intended, they may not know your department’s specific needs or requirements. That’s why you should do your data collection and planning before getting this far.

Power supply

The PVEE landscape is ever-changing as tools become lighter and more portable and power systems continue to evolve; it was only a few years ago that battery-powered PVEE tools began arriving in the marketplace.

While the PVEE tools like cutters, spreaders, rams, and such, still look and perform pretty much as they have for years, the choices in operating systems have really grown. Each PVEE system available has its own unique benefits and no one tool is best for every situation.

Traditional hydraulic-powered systems have been around for a long time and are proven technology. Pressure to the pump that pressurizes the hydraulic fluid reservoir can come from an electric hard-wired motor, an internal combustion engine, or a power take-off (PTO) drive. The PTO version is connected to a truck’s transmission and some are capable of operating up to eight rescue tools simultaneously.

The advent of lithium-ion battery (sometimes Li-ion battery or LIB) technology is the driving force behind the growing popularity of PVEE tools that operate using a battery-powered electric motor system. Batteries such as the commercially available M28 Li-ion battery offer high energy density, no memory effect, and only a slow loss of charge when not in use.

Hybrid electric-hydraulic, battery-powered hydraulic system, systems can supply more powerful hydraulic tool systems while still improving the portability of those systems.

The right questions

When you get to this phase there are some pretty specific pieces of information that you’ll want to acquire that include warranty terms and conditions, equipment service recommendations and vendor commitment (loaner tools and technician response time). Beyond those initial items, learn about the specific PVEE tool or system that you’re looking to purchase.

  • How compatible will the new tool be with your existing PVEE inventory?
  • Will you be able to add on tools using the existing system regardless of make and operating pressure (5,000 to 10,000 psi) for your current system and new tool system?
  • What are the key tasks and functions the tool provides?
  • How ergonomically designed is the tool for user safety, efficiency and effectiveness?
  • Are the tools compatible for modern vehicle construction and able to cut exotic metals such as boron steel?

Any equipment purchased with a high price tag, including PVEE tools and systems, is a significant undertaking for any fire department. With some good upfront planning and preparation, the process can be less daunting and will likely result in a purchase that you and your people will be satisfied with in the end.

This article, originally published June 11, 2015, has been updated

Battalion Chief Robert Avsec (ret.) served with the Chesterfield (Virginia) Fire & EMS Department for 26 years. He was an instructor for fire, EMS and hazardous materials courses at the local, state and federal levels, which included more than 10 years with the National Fire Academy. Chief Avsec earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Cincinnati and his master’s degree in executive fire service leadership from Grand Canyon University. He is a 2001 graduate of the National Fire Academy’s EFO Program. Beyond his writing for and, Avsec authors the blog Talking “Shop” 4 Fire & EMS and has published his first book, “Successful Transformational Change in a Fire and EMS Department: How a Focused Team Created a Revenue Recovery Program in Six Months – From Scratch.” Connect with Avsec on LinkedIn or via email.