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Scrap Vehicles Help Teach Firefighters New Rescue Tricks

Herald Times Reporter via YellowBrix

September 08, 2010

BURTONSILLE, MD – An abrupt crunch announced the severing of the last column connecting the roof to the frame of a Chevrolet pickup truck in a Rockville scrapyard Thursday evening as members of the Burtonsville Volunteer Fire Department braced their shoulders under the strain and prepared to remove the roof.

Hefting what appears to be a gigantic pair of scissors in his gloved hands, volunteer firefighter Devon Zeigler stepped around the frame, reluctantly handing the cutters to a colleague who began trimming the sides of the truck open in one of the department’s favorite training exercises: A hands-on lesson in using the three hydraulic tools commonly known to the public as the Jaws of Life.

Of the three tools, cutters are essentially heavy pairs of scissors firefighters use to shear through wrecked vehicles in order to free people trapped inside, while “spreaders,” which resemble a giant pair of needle-nosed pliers, can be jammed between a car door and the frame and expanded to force open doors or even snap them clean off their hinges, according to Lt. William Rector of the BVFD.

Rams are also important, using the hydraulic force generated through thick wires from the rescue squad to force bent dashboards back away from a victim’s legs so they can be freed in the event a wreck pins them to their seats.

As one of six fire departments in Montgomery County equipped with a rescue squad vehicle, the Burtonsville Volunteer Fire Department is one of only a few volunteer organizations in the area with crew members trained in using the tools.

While the department responds to nearly 6,000 calls for service each year, only vehicle accidents that take place on roads with certain speed limits are typically responded to by the rescue squad, according to Firefighter Justin Hale during a tour of the station last week.

“Basically on any road where you have an accident and the speed limit is over 40 miles per hour we’ll send the rescue squad,” Hale said, explaining that it is these wrecks that tend to generate the force needed to trap victims or cause injury serious enough to require immediate extrication. “That’s really the main purpose of this truck; to respond to traffic accidents. … It’s like a toolbox on wheels.”