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Appetite for destruction?

Nope, Ossipee Firefighters just practicing car crash rescue skills

CENTER OSSIPEE FIREFIGHTER Ritt Gayer explains the proper technique for lifting a car’s dash off a hypothetical car accident victim’s legs during a training exercise on May 27. To Gayer’s right, another firefighter uses a “combination tool” to keep the car’s dash elevated. Daymond Steer - Staff. (click for larger version)

A CENTER OSSIPEE FIREFIGHTER works on removing a door. Observe that the roof has been folded over itself and the beams that frame the windshield have been removed — along with the windshield. Daymond Steer - Staff. (click for larger version)
June 03, 2010
OSSIPEE — Center Ossipee Firefighters turned a junky Oldsmobile into mince meat during a training session on May 27. What looked like destruction was actually a valuable opportunity for firefighters to practice their rescue skills ahead of the summer driving season.

The purpose of the training, which took place near Andrea and Jim's Auto Repair on Route 16B, was to practice gaining access to a victim after a car accident. About 14 firefighters participated in last week's drill. During the drill, the first stage of mock rescue entailed stabilizing the vehicle, said Firefighter Ritt Gayer who helped lead the exercise. This procedure involves placing wedges and chocks under a vehicle on all four sides.

"You don't want it to come down on a firefighter," he said.

Meanwhile, other firefighters disconnected the battery, which prevents the airbag from deploying and injuring firefighters. This used to happen frequently when airbags were first developed. Today, firefighters still have to be careful because modern vehicles contain multiple airbags, some of which are solar powered and will continue to function even if the battery is disconnected. Airbag locations are marked on the interior of the vehicles.

In last week's exercise, firefighters went through a number of rescue procedures to get as much hands on practice as possible out of the car. Obviously, not every one of these procedures is necessary in every rescue.

Once the vehicle is stable, a rescuer can enter the vehicle to get close to the victim. In the event the victim is trapped, the other firefighters will use a hammer to shatter the windows. The front windshields don't shatter, so they need to be removed with a saw. Meanwhile, the people inside the car cover themselves with a blanket to avoid getting hit by shattered glass. Removing glass takes away a potential hazard for emergency workers.

"We have to be safe or else we're no good to anybody," said Gayer.

While most firefighters worked on the car, one firefighter manned a hose in case of a fire. The hose was pulled out from a truck and aimed at the Oldsmobile. The firefighters even practiced setting up the emergency barrier tape, which would deter gawkers and keeps them at a distance. Gayer said in real emergencies people should give accident scenes wide berth so as not to interfere with emergency personnel.

Then firefighters practiced opening locked car doors with a crowbar-like tool and a hydraulic combination tool that resembled a 40-pound pair of pliers. The crowbar-like tool creates a space in which to insert the combination tool. The combination tool can spread things open, cut, and grip. The combination tool has a spreading force of around 13,000 pounds and cutting force of around 60,000 pounds. Eventually, the firefighters removed the doors entirely with help from a "cutting tool," which looks similar to the combination tool, but had shears at the end. According to Gayer, this tool has a cutting force of nearly 200,000 pounds. Since firefighters need to wear about 50 pounds of protective gear, the work can get particularly hot and sweaty, said Gayer.

Then, they practiced how to extricate someone who has their legs caught under the dash. This involved using the spreader and their own strength to remove the panel that was located over the front wheel of the Oldsmobile. They even cut off the A-posts, the beams frame the windshield. The spreader was used to muscle the dash out of position. At the end of this process, the dash was so contorted that the steering wheel was facing straight up in the air.

The firefighters then moved on to turning the hard-toped car into a convertible. They cut some slits in the roof, so they could fold it backwards by hand.

The training is valuable even for veteran firefighters like Lt. John Fogarty who has 35 years of experience. Lots of things change over the years from training standards and fire equipment to the cars on the road. Practice sessions are important to stay sharp and current, he said.

Chief Michael Brownell watched the training from his command vehicle — letting his instructors provide the other firefighters with direction. This way, Brownell said he could monitor and critique his crew's overall performance.

"It's not just that the bell rings and everybody goes off," said Brownell. "There's a lot to it."

Gayer said he'd encourage people who are interested in firefighting to call their local fire department. Although it takes a special person who can handle lots of physical and mental stresses, the job is rewarding firefighters say.

"I love it," said Kelly O'Connell a firefighter for nearly three years. "I get to help people and see some interesting things."

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