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Irmo Fire District Gets vastly improved vehicle extrication tools

Cordless devices boast optimal portability and low noise

Irmo, SC (By James Bowers) – Being involved in an auto accident is something no sane person ever wants to experience; however, car crashes can and do happen every day. Fortunately, in the area around Irmo and most other parts of the Midlands, there are highly skilled people who are out there just waiting to help in case of such an emergency occurs.

Firefighters, first responders, and EMTs, such as those at the Irmo Fire District, are trained for every type of emergency. They train regularly in medical response techniques such as CPR and physical stabilization, but, they’re also well trained in the proper removal of injured, and sometimes even trapped people, from damaged vehicles. These well-trained rescuers can give you the service that hopefully you’ll never need; they may one day save your life!

When a person cannot get out of a crashed and damaged vehicle on their own, rescuers use hydraulic cutting tools to either remove the vehicle door or create other openings. They are working to allow enough space for the patient to be removed by paramedics, or in some cases, climb out under their own power if they are uninjured. These tools, known for years as the Jaws of Life, got their nickname from the resemblance of their scissor like cutting pieces to shark teeth or jaws.

There are a few different types of these tools. They include “cutters”; tools for cutting or “biting” through metal, “splitters”, which pull and tear sections of metal away from the driver, and “rams”, which are used less often than cutters and splitters but are effective for “pushing” metal to its breaking point. The term combi-tool is also commonly used to refer to models that feature characteristics of both spreaders and cutters in combination.

In order to prevent unnecessary movement when a vehicle is damaged, on its side or overturned, devices called struts are used to hold the vehicle in place. These have ratchet straps that attach to the vehicle, Then, these are put under tension by the strut acting to stabilize a damaged vehicle.

Until recently, IFD personnel had no choice but to add more anxiety to an already traumatic situation of a wreck by using older model tools which produced excessive noise. In addition to these terrifying shaken crash victims with the tool’s ear shattering racket, they required the use of a long hose that connected to the fire engine. These hoses often impaired the device’s and operators’ mobility, and created trip and fall hazards. To make matters worse, the dated equipment was at times ineffective in cutting into newer models of vehicles with stronger metals and different designs.

In order to overcome these challenges, the Irmo Fire District went looking for a new and better method of extricating victims from car crashes. They found it in the latest model of the Hurst brand “Jaws of Life” extrication tools.

Powered by a portable motor, and consequently cordless, these tools provide all the cutting power of the old corded units while drastically reducing noise. This makes the extrication process easier for both the rescuer and victim.

Members of the Irmo Fire District got to train with and try out the new tools at the district’s North Lake Station on a recent Thursday. During that session, they were instructed in the use of the new Hurst equipment by Tony Bedenbaugh. He’s an expert in auto extrication who was an Irmo firefighter himself for many years.

Bedenbaugh coached the IFD personnel through processes of using the struts to keep a crashed or unstable vehicle in place. He also taught different cutting and prying techniques with the various tools and their attachments.

Bedenbaugh readily touted the advantages the new instruments had over their predecessors, noting that in previous decades, the practice of responding to serious auto accidents was very primitive. “People would use whatever instruments they could to get people out such as farm equipment,” Bedenbaugh said. “They often didn’t even have ambulance services, especially in rural areas and hearses were used to transport victims to hospitals.” Most of South Carolina was covered in this primitive way up through the early 1970’s.

Now, with great advances in emergency response technology, comes the need for people who are specially trained in that technologies use. Instruction may occur in house at most fire departments, and through other agencies such as the South Carolina Fire Academy.

Bedenbaugh pointed out that the internet is another useful tool in learning to develop and hone crucial rescue skills and techniques. Online articles and videos are an effective source of information on updated extrication methods that firefighters can turn to when they aren’t out actively performing their jobs.

The newest Hurst tools are sleek in design, and their compact nature gets them into spaces that would have been difficult to work in with the older, larger, heavier models. Bedenbaugh said that even though the cost of the newest model tools are significant, around $35-40,000 for the entire set, it is more than worth it for a public safety agency seeking optimal rescue capability.

According to assistant Chief Clyde Thomas of the IFD, the Hurst equipment is an indispensable asset. “It’s great to have tools that use smart technology, without the need for cords and hoses. With these tools, you just put in a portable power source and you’re ready to go. It definitely helps with efficiency.”

The newer Hurst equipment is just one of the many ways that public safety departments are embracing new technology in their operations. While most hope they will never need the aid of these tools, they are a shining example of innovation in rescue and medical response, with capabilities that are really on the “cutting edge”.

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