Heavy Vehicle Rescue

CarolinaFireJournal - By David Pease
By David Pease
10/26/2015 -

We are moving into fall and the weather makes it a good time for training. School is back in and folks are also back into their normal schedule. This also means more traffic on the road and more school buses back on the road. Since we have nicer weather, try and get as much training in as you can before the holidays come upon us. They will be here before you know it. We have looked at many aspects of heavy vehicle rescue. We have discussed the anatomy of trucks, types of trucks, trailers, stabilizing the vehicles and lifting them as well. We have considered how airbags work and the different types. Now we need to look at extricating our patients and how to gain access. In many ways this is not a lot different than working on standard vehicles.


There are some considerations we must keep in mind, but then most large trucks do not have a full complement of airbags for us to worry about. Most of the newer trucks do have frontal airbags that work like regular vehicles do.

As you would with any vehicle, always check for Supplemental Restraint System (SRS) labeling to indicate there is an airbag. Treat these the same way, with respect if it has not deployed. Disconnect the batteries as you normally would, but remember that they are wired in series so there will be multiple batteries and they all have to be disconnected. They are usually found in a slide tray under the driver’s door. The systems are still 12 volt at this time.


When accessing through the doors, the hinges may be of standard construction or they may be piano type hinges. Both types of hinges can be spread apart or cut with the hydraulic cutter or a reciprocating saw. The door handle will be found at the bottom of the door, but the latch will be at the middle of the door. While with normal vehicles we pry at the door handle to reach the latch and Nader pin for separation. On a large truck, you will need to pry and spread at the middle of the door. You can see in the picture where the door handle is located in relation to the latch itself.                  

The other thing to keep in mind is that you are not working at ground level like you would be on a car. We typically only have to hold our spreader at waist level to work on our vehicle. With trucks however, you may be holding your extrication tools at head level or higher. As you can see from the picture, the latch is at head level. This also means that having to work the tools at head or above can increase our stress level physically and mentally. We are not used to working our tools like this, so we must increase our safety awareness. If the truck is resting on another vehicle, the height may be increased expediently. We now have to consider a safe way to get ourselves and the tools in a position to work on the doors.

Working Elevated

Let’s look at some ways we can get our rescue folks in a better position to work on prying or removing the truck doors. Of course one consideration is to work off a ladder. This is something that most firefighters are familiar with and pretty good at doing. You need to make sure the ladder is footed at all times and you can secure yourself to the ladder when working with the tools. Since you are working with the weight of the tool, and the forces it will be applying during the extrication, you could easily be knocked off balance and fall from the ladder with tool trailing behind. You may resemble a “Roadrunner” cartoon where the coyote hits the ground and the rock soon follows. Ouch! Use extreme caution when doing this from a ladder. Another option is to literally build a scaffold with ladders and backboards. This is more time consuming, but if you have an extended extrication, it will work.

If you are able to get a rollback wrecker in close to the truck, this will give you a very stable and safe working platform. You have the wrecker either back up or parallel to the door you are working on, and then go at it. This will put you working on the door almost at the level you would on a standard vehicle. Since the truck may be elevated, you do not want to just pry the door off and let it fall to the ground. You may have to tie the door off to keep it from falling and then lower it down. Falling objects are normally not a problem so rescuers working below need to be cautious.

In upcoming issues we go into more of the extrication phase of heavy vehicle extrication to include buses. I should have some good pictures for the upcoming issues as we are doing a heavy vehicle class at Climax Fire and have a nice sleeper cab tractor that we can actually cut up. This does not happen very often.

Stay safe out there and always train to your best. The life you save may turn out to be someone you know.

If you have any questions or comments, please shoot me an email at [email protected]. Until next time, train hard, be safe, and know your equipment.
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