The Vancouver Fire Department has purchased an early holiday present in the form of new heavy extrication equipment for its technical rescue team.
Paratech Hydrafusion Struts will allow the department’s firefighters to rescue trapped motorists quickly and safely, as they’re able to stabilize up to 20,000 pounds and actively lift 10 tons.
“The struts will give the Technical Rescue Team the capability to simultaneously lift, stabilize and hold a semi-truck that is crushing another vehicle,” said Special Operations Division Chief Tom O’Connor.
Before receiving the struts, which cost around $24,000 and are only manufactured by Paratech, the rescue team’s equipment for crashes involving heavy vehicles required a multiple-step process in which they would use pieces of wood to build a Jenga-like tower underneath vehicles to raise them. The higher the makeshift tower went, the more unstable it would become, said Geoff Robbins, a lead rescue team member.
The fire department also relied on the use of outside sources for wrecking equipment in order to help lift and hold larger commercial vehicles, said O’Connor.
The new struts were funded by a grant through the Washington State Emergency Management Division’s Homeland Security Grant Program.
Firefighters have yet to use the new equipment for a real crash, but they’re getting ready to. On a sunny and brisk Friday afternoon in early December, the rescue team gathered in the east corner of the fire department’s headquarters off Northeast 63rd Street. Old, damaged cars and commercial vehicles make the training space look slightly like a junkyard, but the clunkers are important for the department’s practice of mock scenarios.
On this day, the front-end of a dirty, old box-truck had been lifted and placed on the hood of a destroyed silver sedan.
The team placed the struts under the truck, using additional, older struts already in the possession of the fire department to hold steady the more than 20-foot commercial vehicle. Firefighters strapped the body of the car to its frame and placed wedges in front of where the sedan once had tires, to ensure the car would not lift or move as the box-truck was raised.
A team member standing beside the box-truck used a hand-pump connected to the struts, and the truck slowly inched off the hood of the car.
“I can see daylight,” one of the firefighters told his colleagues.
A forklift, which would typically be another kind of response vehicle at a crash scene, pulled the car away from the truck.
Using older methods, the lifting of the truck would have taken around an hour, Robbins said. He estimated that the Paratech Hydrafusion Struts cut that time in half.
“It’s a much faster evolution,” Robbins said.
Examining the success of the scenario, O’Connor said the equipment is something the fire department had been eyeing for some time, but there is only so much money for specialty units, and Homeland Security generally prioritizes funding for training rather than new devices.
“This will save someone’s life in the next year,” the division chief said.