For this month’s column, I thought I would combine my two hobbies: the fire service and racing. I’m a big NASCAR fan, and I know many firefighters are, too. But beyond NASCAR, I’m a big fan of racing in general; I even dabble in IndyCar racing.
For those who don’t know already, the Izod IndyCar Series Safety Team is sponsored by Holmatro, a big name in the fire service rescue and extrication game. Since 1967, Holmatro has manufactured and supplied high-pressure hydraulic equipment for specialized industries around the world. It is a global company, with branches in the United States, Netherlands, China and Poland. Currently, Holmatro designs, develops, manufactures and supplies rescue equipment, industrial equipment and marine equipment globally.
Here’s a fun fact about what makes IndyCar different compared to other racing series: Other racing series, like Formula 1 and NASCAR, rely on the safety crew of the individual tracks visited. But in IndyCar, the Holmatro Safety Team travels to each venue, including the overseas races in Brazil and China. This helps ensure the continuity of personnel and training at every race.
The Holmatro Safety Team has provided at-track support at every Indy Racing League race since its January 1996 inaugural event at Walt Disney World Speedway. In 2013, the Holmatro Safety Team will accompany the Indy Racing League—the sanctioning body for the Izod IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights—to 17 events in the United States, Canada, Brazil and Japan.
Under the supervision of Dr. Mike Olinger, Indy Racing League director of medical services, and Mike Yates, Indy Racing League manager of track safety operations, the Holmatro Safety Team consists of approximately 24 safety personnel with a minimum of 14 attending each event: two trauma physicians, three paramedics and nine firefighters/EMTs. Team personnel have an average of 20 years of experience in their respective areas.
The Holmatro Safety Team travels with four safety vehicles, and brings the most sophisticated racing technologies and state-of-the-art Holmatro rescue equipment to each venue. The team continually evaluates its on-track procedures to be at the forefront of motorsports safety. They also coordinate the safety personnel staffing at each venue, including firefighters, ambulance and tow-truck providers, and track maintenance crews. An eight-hour instructional course is held at every new venue on the schedule, and the team meets with track crews for update sessions before each event.
The 2013 vehicles use Chevrolet Silverado Pick-up truck chassis and also travel with a large transporter command vehicle. Two of the trucks have a firefighting system that consists of a 65-gallon water tank in the truck bed, an electric water pump mounted under the chassis below the driver’s seat, and a water discharge on the front with a pre-connected 1-inch hose and nozzle. The small pump located under the vehicle pump is designed for volume rather than pressure.
Here’s what else can be found on these two Holmatro Safety Team vehicles:
1. Holmatro’s hydraulic rescue equipment: cutters, spreaders and hydraulic pumps.
2. Tow straps to tow a car back to the pit.\
3. A starter to restart an engine of a stalled car.
4. Two Jacks (one for IndyCar and one for Indy Lights) to get the car easily turned around.
5. Equipment to get a potentially injured driver safely out of his car and to stabilize his neck.
6. Medical equipment.
7. Five-gallon pressurized handheld water and foam fire extinguishers.
8. Brooms to clean the track.
For the third vehicle, instead of having a water tank and pump, it has a system for dispensing Oil-Dri, a product much like kitty litter. If there’s a small oil or fuel leak after a crash, the team uses five-gallon handheld bottles to pour Oil-Dri to absorb the liquid. If the oil or gas is distributed over a large area, say, if the car crashes into the wall then slides for hundreds of feet, the truck drives along the path of the spill dispensing the Oil-Dri from a hopper on the rear. Then a large brush that runs the width of the truck is lowered and can spread the Oil-Dri around or work it into the liquid. It also has a large blower to blow the Oil-Dri and other debris off the track surface.
When fire endangers a racer, the first person off the truck is supposed to grab and operate an extinguisher to protect the driver until they can apply water with the hose. The small hose connected to the pump located at the front bumper is a short, less-kinkable hose that’s used after the extinguishers are deployed.
Safety 1, 2 and 3 are all staffed by a crew of four professionals: one crew leader/driver, one paramedic and two firefighters.
The fourth truck of the Safety Team isn’t in the Holmatro livery at all, but rather features the colors of Philips Emergency Care. This is the doctor’s transport, named Command 1. It contains all medical equipment to stabilize a driver and it is staffed by a professional driver, IndyCar doctor Michael Ollinger, a track doctor and an orthopedic specialist.
All this is pretty cool if you ask me. From what I can see, this is a well-thought-out approach to safety and firefighting for all of the Izod IndyCar racing venues. Training and equipment in addition to the Holmatro extrication equipment makes this a proactive operation. So next time there’s any IndyCar race on TV, look for the Holmatro Safety Team in operation. You won’t be disappointed.