Heavy rescue – how to achieve a stable rescue scene

Published:  09 October, 2012

The team approach to road traffic collisions does not just apply to cars, but also to trucks. Whilst the approach is the same in terms of the pre-determined phases, the process is far more complex, requiring more knowledge and equipment, writes Ian Dunbar, rescue consultant for Holmatro.


Of course safety is your first priority and the initial 360 degree survey will reveal different types of hazards compared to what you would find when dealing with smaller vehicles.

Preventing vehicle movement and stabilising the truck and trailer will take a lot of your resources in terms of personnel and equipment, and knowledge of the complex braking and suspensions systems involved is vital. These systems must be recognised and dealt with before the extrication can begin.

We stabilise for the following reasons:

  • To allow a rescue that is sympathetic to the injuries of the casualty, preventing movement and worsening injuries
  • To provide a solid platform for medical intervention
  • To provide a solid base for the use of hydraulic rescue equipment and to prevent the further deformation of the vehicle

When it comes to trucks, due to the construction, we have to look at three key areas in relation to stabilisation:

  • Stabilise between the road and the chassis
  • Stabilise between the chassis and the cab
  • Manage the driver’s seat, which may be hydraulic, pneumatic or manually operated

Stabilising the vehicle’s wheels

On arrival and once a safety assessment has been carried out, the vehicle wheels should be chocked, the hand brake applied and if possible, the foot brake should be repeatedly pumped to exhaust all of the air out of the system, thus applying the brakes. Attention should be paid to pneumatic suspension systems. If damaged, the vehicle could leak air and slowly ‘drop’ during the rescue process so the use of wooden cribbing or shoring equipment under the trailer (or rigid section) is important. Another consideration is ‘drop’ or ’lift’ axles. These are the wheels you may see lifted clear of the road. If they are in the up position during a collision and the pneumatic system is damaged, they too could drop. They can weigh over two tonnes, so they must be managed by use of chocks underneath, or by attaching a tensioning belt to each wheel and passing it over the chassis. This will hold the axle in the up position.

Stabilising the cab

Managing the stability of the cab is difficult due to the initial space to be filled between the road and the chassis. Wooden cribbing is an option, but emergency shoring equipment works much better and means crews do not have to be underneath the vehicle. It is also very quick to deploy, and when the shoring equipment is in place, as well as providing stability, you will also have the option to lift.

If possible, pass a tensioning belt through (or over) the cab and attach to each wheel. Once tensioned this will pull the cab down onto the chassis and reduce movement quite considerably (although not fully.) Making use of rubber blocks between the chassis and cab will make this method more effective.

Managing the driver’s seat

Due to the nature of the truck driver’s work, seats are designed to provide as much comfort as possible and this is achieved by pneumatic, hydraulic or manual means. Whatever the system it is a good idea to first place a wedge block under the seat. Then if possible, exhaust the system (either pneumatic or hydraulic) by using the controls (often on the side of the seat).


Stability is literally the foundation of your rescue efforts, and must be rechecked throughout the process, as vehicle structures are removed and personnel enter or exit the vehicle. Remember also, the load of the vehicle. This can be dynamic and must be managed at all time in line with your stability plan.

Making sure you understand the systems on large goods vehicles and ensuring you have the correct equipment, allow you to safely stabilise the vehicle and move onto the next phase of the rescue with the minimum delay. This makes the chance of a successful rescue much higher.


Ian Dunbar is a Rescue Consultant at Holmatro Rescue Equipment. Before joining Holmatro,  Ian was a Training Officer in the UK Fire & Rescue Service with a background in both technical as well as medical rescue.
Ian provides consultation and training to emergency services departments around the world.

  • Operation Florian

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