I talked to one of the fire chiefs this past weekend at the South Carolina Fire/Rescue Conference. I had given a vehicle extrication class for his department several months back. He told me about several wrecks they had worked after we completed the class. He was pretty excited how they were able to extricate the victims from the vehicles. It is always good to hear about calls that departments go on after they have spent time training and practicing their skills.
In the last two articles we looked at, and talked about, stabilizing. We discussed the use of cribbing and stabilization struts. We are now going to look at incorporating lifting into the equation. One of the first things we need to look at and consider is the amount of weight we may have to lift. Even though we are talking about heavy vehicle rescue, it does not always mean we are going to have to lift great quantities of weight. On the other hand, we may very well have to lift a part of the vehicle that is quite heavy. For this reason we can consider using a multitude of lifting devices. We will look first at what can be used to lift a smaller vehicle that is involved in one of these crashes.
If we are stabilizing with rescue struts, we may also be able to lift with those struts. The right struts can pretty much lift any small, medium or large vehicle while still providing stabilization. Rescue struts and jacks can lift from 2500 pounds to 6000 pounds. Always consider struts and jacks that give you the most versatility. Other options for lifting are high lift jacks, hydraulic bottle jacks, floor jacks, a hydraulic spreader, and low and high pressure air bags. High lift jacks give you about a 4500 pound safe working load. Some jacks are slighter higher in lifting capability, while some are lower. Keep in mind that the higher you go with these jacks the more unstable they become. Adding a ratchet strap to the bottom can help to make them more stable. Bottle jacks range from several tons up to 50 tons. The larger the jack’s capability to lift, the shorter the distance it will have in lifting height. The larger jacks need more size to gain the heavier lifting capacity. When looking at bottle jacks, stick to the 10, 20 and 30 ton models. Two 30 ton bottle jacks would be able to lift 120,000 pounds. This is way more than you would ever need for large and small vehicles.
Floor jacks average from two to five tons, but they do have some that go higher. They even have one rated at 100 tons. The nice thing about a floor jack is it can be placed quickly, and then gives you the ability to lift a smaller vehicle relatively fast. These would not work so well on the larger trucks, but could work well on the smaller vehicles. I had someone tell me at one of the fire shows that a fire department in California carried floor jacks on their truck companies and rescues. Since California allows motorcycles to drive between the lanes of traffic, they have to deal with a fair amount of motorcycle crashes. He said a lot of these put the motorcycles under the vehicles with the drivers pinned between the bike and the vehicle. They would place the floor jack under the car, and crib as they raised the jack. It allowed them to quickly lift the car and then remove the motorcycle victim. They said it worked really well, and it was fast. The drawback to having the floor jack on your apparatus is that it takes up a bit of space. I guess it boils down to just how much room you have on your truck, and how often you would respond to such an incident.
The next piece of equipment that can be used to lift is the hydraulic spreader. I guess I need to also mention that a hydraulic ram can also be used to lift. When lifting with a spreader, there are several things you need to keep in mind. You need to make sure you have a good, solid lifting base for one end of the spreader. A steel plate works really well, and if not available, you could use a cribbing block. You need to get a good bite on the vehicle with the other spreading tip, one that will not slip as it goes up. With the spreader opening in a “V,” everything will become less stable as you open the spreaders and lift higher. What you do not want to happen is for the spreader to kick out as you are making your lift.
As with using any of the devices we just talked about, you crib as you lift. We are always taught that; “you lift an inch, you crib an inch.” I prefer to teach that you maintain contact with at least a wedge at all times and should a failure occur, then the vehicle will not drop at all, much less an inch. The technique to good safe cribbing is a little harder than some realize. If contact is always in place, it makes the cribbing process much safer.
Next issue we will look at the use of high and low pressure bags for lifting. Until then, keep on training and practicing to become the best you can be and stay safe out there.