By Todd D. Meyer
Published Friday, July 1, 2011
| From the July 2011 Issue of FireRescue
Building a foundation for success—it sounds corny, doesn’t it? But it’s true. Building a foundation for success is exactly what we do every day. It’s our responsibility. No matter how big or small the incident, a responder must evaluate and address the vehicle’s stabilization needs to properly execute victim disentanglement. From putting the vehicle into “park,” pulling the e-brake and removing the ignition keys, to busting out struts and crib boxes, when we show up at Mrs. Smith’s rollover (probably her first), we must perform like we’ve done this before—and done it well.
Check & Recheck
When a vehicle is involved in an accident, its construction is compromised and its components weakened. We compromise it further when Ladder 1 shows up and takes the doors and roof. We must own our actions and account for them. As we cut or spread, we need to continually evaluate the vehicle’s state and how our actions are weakening its components, and adjust our stabilization efforts. Check and recheck, then recheck again—especially if the load has shifted. Give the cribbing a “love tap,” with a wedge or Halligan bar, for example. Snug it up. Put your hands on the struts and straps to confirm they are tight. Don’t just look at it and assume it’s good.
Come with Cribbing
The equipment and the responders who operate it are at the heart of stabilization. Some responders make their own wooden step chocks, though some departments worry about liability issues. A local high school wood shop class may cut your wood cribbing as a project. Another option: commercially made metal or plastic step chocks.
Regardless of how we obtain it, most of us have a limited amount of cribbing, so try to prioritize your cribbing around your patient. If the driver is the sole occupant of the vehicle, focus on the A- and B-posts. I recommend B-posts before C-posts in this example because they support the vehicle body more effectively if we need to take the doors and roof. As more cribbing arrives, you can expand from there.
Whether using struts or wooden cribbing, cater to the strengths of the vehicle. Avoid moving parts, wheels and suspension. Plastic parts can be a problem; you may need to remove some of the plastic trim to find a suitable stabilization location. Also, check the strut straps. Are they wrapped around sharp edges? Are they contacting hot or greasy parts? If so, consider cutting a slit down the side of an old 4" hose and encasing the straps inside the hose. This is a cheap and easy way of providing added protection.
Work Every Angle
Consider the stabilization needs for vehicles in different positions, in different locations and even in rare scenarios.
Vehicle on Wheels: When a vehicle is on its wheels, step chocks and a few wedges can usually help take suspension out of the equation. Dropping the tires also helps provide a solid platform to work on. Handle stabilization first, before banging and prying on the hood in an attempt to get to the battery. Remember, this is the first time Mrs. Smith has had her car roof cut off.
Vehicle on Side: When dealing with a vehicle on its side, don’t wait for the struts to show up to start stabilizing. If possible, use cribbing at the posts (strong points) on both sides of the vehicle. Then use struts to complement what you already have.
Vehicle on Roof: If a vehicle is on its roof, note whether the roof has been compromised. Are you relying on it as part of your stabilization plan? Most of the time, we’ll throw step chocks under the rear of the car (C-post area) and rely on the A-post to support the front of the vehicle. Give attention to those A-posts, especially when removing doors and posts. Consider calling a wrecker early, especially if struts aren’t available.
Vehicle in a Ditch: If Mrs. Smith’s vehicle is off road, say, in a ditch, first survey the area for uneven surfaces and tripping hazards. To anchor your struts, sometimes your best option is to use pickets. Also, is there water in the ditch? Assess the exit route from the ditch. And think about staffing needed to move the patient over rough terrain safely. Depending on the depth and angle, would a simple ladder slide suffice?
Object on Vehicle: If an object—a log, for example—is on the vehicle, weigh your options. Strap the log to the car and stabilize between the car and log, taking up void spaces. Is plan B to remove the log? Can you cut it off or do you need a wrecker to conduct a coordinated lift? If multiple objects are on the vehicle, consider whether you’ll need to secure them together or remove them.
Semi-Trucks: Don’t forget to be prepared for the big haulers. If you don’t have 6" x 6" materials to handle the heavier loads, check with your local lumber yard to see what they have available. Will they deliver it to your scene? Do you have after-hours access to their yard? Are they OK with you using the universal key (aka Knox Box key) or bolt cutters?
Throughout your career, there are going to be many Mrs. Smiths who smash up their cars, necessitating a response from us. And one of our most critical tasks is stabilization. Never forget the importance of stabilization during an extrication. After all, we can’t bounce Mrs. Smith around and cause more harm; she needs to get home in better shape than when we found her.
Want More Extrication?
Check out Les Baker’s most recent In-Depth Extrication column, “Preparing Extrication Tools for Use,” at
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