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Training Day: Extrication on an embankment

Educating firefighters on extricating patients in hard-to-reach areas, like roadside embankments

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Training exercises are excellent opportunities for you and your personnel to develop and maintain your incident command system skills.


When a vehicle leaves the roadway and comes to rest below grade, the challenges for firefighters and EMS providers increase dramatically. In this article, we’ll cover how to plan a realistic training exercise to prepare your department’s personnel to operate safely, effectively and efficiently at such an emergency incident.

Car over an embankment training objectives

The greatest tactical challenges for such an event center around the logistics and operations necessary to accomplish the following:

  1. Get the necessary personnel and equipment down to a vehicle crash that’s below grade.
  2. Get all patients back up the grade.
  3. Get all personnel and equipment back up the grade.

Supplies and equipment for conducting an embankment training exercise

Gather the equipment necessary to stage the drill:

  • Ropes for use as lifelines for personnel and lowering/hoisting lines for equipment.
  • Safety harnesses for all personnel going down and up the embankment.
  • Technical rescue hardware (e.g., pulleys, carabiners, webbing).
  • Tarps to protect life lines, prevent soil slippage, etc.
  • Ground ladders (for use as a stairway or slide for a Stokes basket).
  • Rescue manakin or bundled hose weighing between 175 and 200 pounds.
  • Chainsaws and weed trimmers (to clear area for the exercise, if necessary).
  • Additional patient care and extrication equipment used in entrapped occupant rescues.

You don’t need a car, just a hill or embankment, preferably one that is not near an active roadway (the necessary traffic control and personnel protection for training around an active roadway will only add to the complexity of your planning and logistics). This drill is about everything that occurs between your resources at road level and the occupants down below. Look for a location with a moderate amount of grade and a vertical drop of about 20 feet. You want to present your personnel with a challenge, but stay focused on presenting a scenario where they learn how to move equipment and people up and down a grade.

Personnel must wear the PPE that’s appropriate for the tasks they are doing and as directed by their supervisor or manager.

Develop an IAP for your embankment training exercise

Training exercises are excellent opportunities for you and your personnel to develop and maintain your incident command system skills. A critical part of any emergency operation is the Incident Action Plan developed by the incident commander. Here’s an IAP for your car over the embankment training drill to establish and then exercise:

Incident goals:

Tactical objectives:

  • Descend to crash site.
  • Stabilize the vehicle.
  • Gain access to vehicle occupants.
  • Assess patients and provide stabilization treatment at the crash site.
  • Remove patients from vehicle and package them for ascent.
  • Move patients up embankment to topside treatment area for any additional treatment.
  • Load and transport patients to appropriate medical facility.

Conduct an embankment rescue hot wash

In U.S. military circles, every operation or training exercise is immediately followed by a debriefing and review of what happened. It’s called a hot wash. Conducting a similar activity should be part of any fire department training activities. I like to use the following criteria for my hot washes:

  • Did we operate safely?
  • Did we operate efficiently? Look at the process you developed. Did the exercise go according to the training plan? If not, what adjustments should be made before the next exercise? Find solutions, not fault.
  • Did we operate effectively? Did we accomplish the objectives for the training exercise? Did the students acquire new knowledge and skills? Did they refine previously learned knowledge and skills?

This type of training exercise is a good example of how you don’t need to practice every element of an emergency operation to develop or maintain proficiency. By eliminating the logistics of getting a car, treating and packaging actor occupants in the vehicle, and conducting actual vehicle extrication operations, you and your people can focus on one training objective: becoming better at getting personnel and equipment down to incidents below grade and back up.

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.