An easy upgrade

Published:  09 October, 2012

Picture this scenario: a car has gone through the wall on the 4th floor of a parking garage and is precariously balanced on the edge, the occupants – a mother and a two-year-old toddler – are still trapped inside, writes Irakli West, Northern Europe Regional Manager for Paratech.

Can you deal with this situation as the first due engine? Leaving training aside, how suited is your equipment and how easy is it to carry?

Besides medical calls, today’s European Fire Services  respond more to technical emergencies than to fires.

Likewise, typical fire engines have evolved from pure water and hose carriers with pumps to combination vehicles able to deal with a wide range of scenarios, which can be very similar to the one described above. This year‘s FDIC in Indianapolis had a noticeable number of “rescue vehicles” on show underlining that this trend has seemingly reached the US as well.

Back in Europe, fire engines have more of a hybrid tradition. In Germany, the “Hilfeleistungslöschfahrzeug” (rescue and extinguishing engines) are actually the standard and the most widespread type of large appliance. Typically at a weight of 14 to 16 tonnes, with 2,000 litres of water tank capacity, they also carry equipment for technical rescue.

Although technical rescue covers a wide range of disciplines, such as confined space, rope rescue, rigging, heavy rescue, trench rescue and water pumping, extrication tends to have the main emphasis at the moment, and therefore modern fire trucks (leaving specialised units aside) are perhaps too fixed on it.

Some of the above-named disciplines require specialisation, with rope rescue perhaps being the most prominent example, and special units as backup. On the other hand, a “first due engine” ought to be able to perform assessment and, in particular, to initiate first steps.

As mentioned, extrication is the order of the day. Technical engines will carry comprehensive hydraulic rescue tools and auxiliary equipment required for vehicle accidents.

Obviously, storage space is limited, but it would seem that basics have moved out of today’s fire services‘ focus. Such basics demand the ability to secure and shift a load as described above.

  Other typical incidents include securing unstable vehicles after an accident, saving trapped victims from under concrete slabs following construction accidents, fallen trees after a storm, and much more.

With a few minor and inexpensive additions a fire engine can be upgraded to perform such fairly straightforward yet essential tasks. Following is a proposal for two boxes measuring 60x40x30cm plus some auxiliary items.

The sling gear (30 kilos) box contains:

•            At least six ratchet belts. These are perhaps the most important, versatile and cheap utensils for technical rescue. Make sure they are of the open-hook type, and are long enough, but not too long – around 5-7 metres will do.

•            Four climbing slings. Typically rated at 22kN they are a great tool for creating attachment points.

•            Shackles, adapter keys (search for “tie down keys“).

•            A 50x4x0,5cm steel plate with four holes to be used as ground anchor.

•            A folding shovel.

The winch box (40kg) contains:

•            Two 800kg grip hoists (recommended: Greifzug/Tirfor  T508D or Habegger HIT10).

•            Two 20m steel cable rolls.

•            Two pulleys with a rating of at least two tonnes.

•            Various slings for attachment.

Auxiliary items include the handles for the griphoists and about 10 steel pickets (2cm diameter, 80cm long) and a sledgehammer.

It is essential for the equipment be light enough to carry, as the incident scene might be remote.

Typically, three to four firefighters should be sufficient to perform most tasks, including setting up a system with a pull rating of 3.2 tonnes using both grip hoists and pulleys.

Last but not least, no system can work without proper training. With some experience of these basics your crew will very quickly become able, versatile and ready for unusual situations.

Irakli West is Northern Europe Regional Manager for Paratech, a manufacturer of rescue equipment. A technical rescue specialist, he runs heavy rescue training courses such as emergency lifting and trench rescue. He is also a member of @fire, a German INSARAG NGO USAR team.

  • Operation Florian

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