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Extrication tools: Out with the old, in with the new

Is it time for a tool technology upgrade?

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Is it time to review your tool cache to consider whether some newer tools would make for a sound investment?

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When was the last time you thought about your extrication tools? Some of us may not be able to use them on incidents regularly, but we must ensure that we understand the tools, proper techniques, and how to be safe and efficient in order to maximize our equipment and stay safe on scene.

The number of extrication tools available to firefighters has increased dramatically over the past few years. If your agency still has a traditional set of single-use tools like a cutter and a spreader, it might be time to review your tool cache to consider whether some newer tools would make for a sound investment.

Out with the old …

Older tools will likely struggle with cutting and spreading tasks on newer vehicles. The prevalence of boron and other high-strength steels used in cars on the road today means that legacy tools will likely hit their limits before the structural components of a vehicle will yield. This requires responders to resort to another tactic to gain patient access – a tactic that might require more in-depth knowledge of vehicle construction. Technology-enabled tools designed to tackle more modern car structures will have the force necessary to overcome these materials.

… in with the new

Combination tools integrate cutting and spreading into a single tool. This means fewer tool changes at a scene and the ability to reduce the number of units that must be carried and maintained. Some of these tools also feature replaceable tips to improve a tool’s “bite” even after the tips become worn after use.

Cordless tools have also changed the extrication landscape in both tool options and uses. Previously limited to specialty tools for confined spaces or USAR-type assignments, cordless hydraulic rams, spreaders and cutters allow us to work without being tethered to a hydraulic power unit. Battery technology improvements mean the tools can accomplish more work between battery changes. These tools also make it easier to spot apparatus at a scene, as we no longer have to consider how far away the vehicle is in regard to the length of our hydraulic hoses. Some cordless tools also feature built-in lights that make it easier to see what you are doing without having to hold an additional flashlight. Tips: Make sure batteries are stored in accessible locations and that you can change batteries aboard the apparatus.

Newer tools also can mean changes to our tactics. Spreaders may open wider than legacy tools, and frequent training with a new tool can help us understand the capabilities. Training can also reinforce manufacturers’ recommendations for tool use and reinforce proper safety policies and good ergonomics.

Additionally, cordless hydraulic rams can be used to force doors for access. This can allow access with less damage to the building than traditional forcible entry techniques. Many rams also have a wider spread than previously available, allowing you to make space in a vehicle without resetting or utilizing blocks.

Safety first

Safety basics generally don’t change with new tools. No matter the type of tool or how innovative it may be, basic safety procedures are still required. Primary and secondary eye protection is essential, as is wearing turnout gear to protect firefighters from cuts and hydraulic injuries in the event of a hose failure or other hydraulic component leak. Additionally, stabilizing the vehicle is critical before extrication begins to ensure that the scene is safe for first responders and the patient(s) alike.

One aspect of protection that can be improved is ergonomics. Tool weight, control locations and handle adjustments are some of the factors that can be enhanced with a new piece of equipment. These changes can make it easier to stay out of the way of the tool while it’s working and ensure your hands are clear of potential pinch points – a clear safety upgrade.

Final thoughts

Extrication tools have come a long way since the manual and heavy first-generation hydraulic tools. The pace of innovation has increased, and it’s a great time to review your lineup to ensure that your equipment is up to the task of today’s extrication incidents.

Andrew Beck is a firefighter/EMT and shift training officer with the Mandan City (N.D.) Fire Department. Beck is a live burn instructor and teaches thermal imaging and fire dynamics across N.D. He is also the Mountain Operations manager at Huff Hills Ski Area, where he leads the outside operations teams. Beck has a background in crew resource management and has completed research on how people and organizations operate in stressful environments. Beck was previously a staff member for the Firefighter Near Miss Reporting System.