By Todd D. Meyer
Published Sunday, May 1, 2011
| From the May 2011 Issue of FireRescue
Driving from Washington to South Dakota each fall, I encounter many big rigs transporting America’s goods, and I find myself in awe of the power and size of these prairie clipper ships. My dad, my dog and I cruising at 85 mph in my F-350 don’t stand a chance against one of those things in a head-on collision.
Now think about a family of four traveling in a Kia. To give them a chance in this seemingly unforgiving situation, we as first responders need to be on our game. Rescue teams should exercise foresight and good judgment to minimize the chance of injury to any passengers. With this in mind, consider the following factors the next time your rescue team is called to an extrication incident involving a big rig.
An initial step is to ensure the big rig is properly stabilized. Watch for plastic parts that may not provide good purchase points or anchor points. Can these materials be removed to get to the meat of the truck?
Like our fire trucks, the cab over the body will tilt forward. Is this connection compromised? As part of your stabilization plan, you may need to secure the body back down to the frame.
Also consider using the trailer’s landing legs. Check to see if the king pin and coupling plate connection has been compromised or if it’s still securely fastened. Take advantage of these systems to supplement your cribbing or strut systems.
And beware of trailer fairings. These devices, which are becoming more popular, are installed underneath the trailer to improve gas mileage. Somewhat flexible, trailer fairings may complicate stabilization and hide potential hazards.
Big rigs carry big loads and, as such, there are multiple hazards you need to consider. To start, most big rigs have the potential to carry 300 gallons of fuel. Is the fuel shut-off accessible? Is it equipped with an unused fuel return system that you may need to address?
Drivers are instructed to shut down electrical systems and fuel supplies following an accident. They should also have their manifest available. If the driver is unable to communicate for some reason, you may be able to locate the manifest in the driver’s door.
The rig could be carrying a variety of loads, so look for a placard to help identify what’s on board. Is it liquid? Gas? Pallets of socks and underwear? Also check to see if there’s undue stress on straps or chains because of the incident. Seek help with this if you don’t know. Remember how I’ve been telling you for the last two years to develop a relationship with tow companies? Well, this is where they can respond and give you valuable input.
Is the load still secure in/on the trailer? Has it shifted? Is additional shifting likely to occur? Is the load hazardous? Where’s the driver? If he’s running frantically from the scene, that’s a bad sign.
Consider that the load may be a live load. I’m talking about pigs, chickens and cattle. Do you have the capabilities to handle this? Check out the National Incident Management System class on herding animals in a disaster (NIMS IS-111: Livestock in Disasters).
Once you’ve identified the load, do you have to unload the product? Call the trucking company and develop a plan with the owner. If they already have a system in place for handling offloading—and it’s safe—don’t buck it; just assist.
Finally, don’t forget that communicating effectively and coming up with common objectives helps mitigate the incident sooner, thus opening the highway faster and making state police happy.
The way the rig is put together will also affect your ability to perform an effective extrication. Big rigs have supplemental restraint systems, front airbags and roll-over protection. Like other vehicles, you need to pull trim and shut down the electrical system to reduce your exposure. Keep in mind that batteries may be in different and multiple locations, and auxiliary components may require additional batteries to operate.
Brake air cans, if compromised, have the potential (2,500 psi) of doing harm by causing flying parts. Snow chains flailing around can strike the cans, causing damage and presenting a hazard. If you don’t know their state, stay clear of these cans. If the brake system is compromised (losing air), the brakes will lock down. Additionally, remember that there may be separate brake controls for the truck and the trailer in the cab.
Refrigeration trailers have refer units mounted on the front of the trailer or underneath. Are these systems hidden by fairing or other trailer parts? They may have an additional fuel tank that you’ll need to deal with.
Rear trailer axles may slide to help distribute weight properly. Is this connection compromised? If so, try to steer clear of using moving parts or suspension components.
Most truck cabs these days are aluminum. How will you cut if there’s a limited amount of structure to push off of? Air chisels and Sawzalls may be the best choices for cutting access holes. Don’t rely on plastic hoods and flares as stabilization components.
If the rig is equipped with a sleeper, search the sleeper for additional passengers. Sleeper compartments may be equipped with restraint systems, such as netting, that you’ll need to work around.
Take advantage of training opportunities throughout the country. Do your research so you know which ones are best. And seek out different industries. Are tow companies or truck companies in your first due? Visit these yards and crawl over and under the rigs to get a feel for how to work with them.
Consider the cargo that comes through your response area. Is it nuclear stuff? Bad chemical voodoo stuff? If you had logging trucks coming through all the time, for example, you’d want to be familiar with a compromised load of logs. Watch “Ax Men” and put in for training credit (I’m kidding—don’t do that!). Similarly, if a lot of livestock rolls through your area, be sure to familiarize yourself with best practices for herding animals in a disaster.
A Real Story
One day, two semi-trucks approached each other on a county road. One semi-truck took a corner wide and started to roll, colliding head-on with the other semi-truck, ripping off the cab and entrapping the driver. When we arrived on scene, we conducted a size-up, called for additional resources and established command. We got to work fast, establishing a rescue group supervisor, shutting down electrical systems and stabilizing the vehicles. We requested tow companies, checked and identified the load, and developed plans A and B. We initiated patient care and conducted a dash lift to free the driver’s legs and a 2" lift with a combi tool to free his arm from between the trucks. In short, we got the job done. We all have stories like that. Tell these stories, pass on the information and learn from what you experienced.
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