When firefighters try to remove people from a damaged vehicle, the fanciest tool isn’t always the best.
Dennis Baber, who was teaching a vehicle extrication class Saturday, said his students had several brands of tools at their disposal.
Those tools “all serve a great purpose,” Baber said. “They all have a purpose.”
But he’s noticed that “even if you have the big hydraulic rescue tools, they may not do the job.” Sometimes, you have to grab basic tools out of a tool box.
Baber was teaching the class as part of the Nebraska State Fire School. That session and a commercial vehicle extrication class were both located behind Kramer’s Auto Parts and Iron Co.
More than 55 students were attending the two classes. Gathered around the destroyed vehicles were firefighters from Thedford, Tecumseh, Peru and many other Nebraska communities.
In some cases, vehicles were thrown together into a tangled mess for the firefighters to address. Five vehicles, one of which was a school bus, were fashioned together in one terrifying scene. But on the highway, first responders can come upon just about anything.
Wrecked vehicles sometimes force firefighters to improvise.
“Sometimes it’s easier just to take the bolts off than to actually cut or spread the doors,” said Baber, who lives in Wilber. He is a training specialist with the state Fire Marshal’s Office.
Lumber is sometimes used to help stabilize damaged vehicles. A stack of 6-by-6’s was available for firefighters to use Saturday.
Another training specialist, Bill Pfeifer, said one group of firefighters was currently on Plan D. In their efforts to remove a dummy from a wreck, the first three methods had failed.
Pfeifer, who lives in O’Neill, also works for the State Fire Marshal’s Office. He is the training specialist for the northeast region.
Cars are getting safer for occupants, but they’re becoming more challenging for rescuers, Baber said.
Most vehicles are lighter, and are built with different materials.
Firefighters “have to have the proper tools to cut the stronger steel, or we have to know where to cut it,” Baber said.
Manufactures of five different extrication tools were represented at the fire school. The best-known brand is Jaws of Life. Another popular brand in Nebraska, Pfeifer said, is Holmatro.
There’s not a trick to using an extrication device. It’s “more of a technique,” Pfeifer said.
Changes in automotive manufacturing have changed the life of rescuers.
“The good old days, where they used to beat the car to death with a set of tools, can’t happen today,” Pfeifer said. It just doesn’t work.
“Today, there’s a little bit more finesse, a little bit more of a technique, in an effort to do it effectively and quickly,” Pfeifer said.
The key to removing a person quickly is “understanding the vehicle itself,” he added.
One of the students, Kent Hergott, said it was interesting to see “all the different tools and how they all operate a little bit differently.”
He enjoyed learning “the different methods and different tricks to get it done quickly and safely.”
Hergott, who’s a member of the Kearney Volunteer Fire Department, is the director of dining services at Central Community College-Grand Island.
The No. 1 emphasis is safety to protect both the firefighters and accident victims.
Firefighters practice covering the occupants, “providing shielding, so that tools can’t roll in and get them,” Pfeifer said.
Air bags can also be an issue. The biggest thing is recognizing that “yes, the vehicle has airbags and no, they haven’t deployed. Then it becomes a task of managing the vehicle so that the bags can’t deploy while we’re doing the extrication work,” Pfeifer said.
Sometimes, rescues aren’t successful. “You do everything you can, as quickly and efficiently as you can, but sometimes the end result still isn’t very positive,” Pfeifer said.
Speed is of the essence, “but sometimes when you get too fast, then the safety starts going away,” Baber said.
Firefighters “don’t want to overlook safety,” he said.