Time-Saving Tips for a Dash-Lift/Jack

“Slow is smooth and smooth is fast” sums up in few words auto extrication techniques, especially when it’s necessary to lift or jack a dash. As you have read in my previous articles, I’m a huge proponent of daily training and learning to be masters of our craft. The craft that we will discuss today is the lifting/jacking of the dash. This is a rather lengthy and intricate process, but with consistent training and practice, this technique can be surgical in its precision and speedy in its timing.

It’s All about Order
We’ve all been on a call when a simple door pop or roof removal turns into a long, drawn-out process of ripping metal, with uncut seatbelts slowing down the process and making us look anything but professional. This is often due to a lack of training, crew integrity and understanding of the game plan. We can sometimes get away with this by using “simpler” extrication techniques, but not with a dash lift.

When it comes to the dash lift, it’s crucial to be systematic and sequential, doing things in order the first time and every time. If one step in the process is missed, we will simply not be able to achieve our goal–freeing a patient from a dashboard entrapment–in a timely fashion. In short, while there are many extrication operations in which we can accomplish the job 10 different ways and achieve the same results, in the case of the dash lift, some steps or techniques simply must happen in a certain order.  

The Incident Details
For this column, we’ll discuss dash-lift techniques that are based on a scene that is stable and safe with a patient who is stable and is not in immediate danger. Most importantly, the crash scene is not what I like to call “cut and run,” where a patient needs to be extricated and transported NOW. The process we will review is methodical, sequential and must be practiced and trained on in order to be effective.

The report is for a two-car MVA with one patient trapped in the passenger side; the other patients self-extricated. A compact two-door sedan rear-ended a large SUV at a significant speed. The entire front end/engine compartment of the sedan is crushed into the dash area, and the dashboard has been forced down onto the patient, pinning and entrapping his legs. The patient is AAOX3 (Awake, Alert, Oriented x 3–all three present) and appears to be stable but in excruciating pain. We know we need to remove the door, but we may also have to “make” a second door–and then there’s the necessary task of lifting the dash off the patient’s lower extremities. Sound familiar? Let’s go through one step-by-step process of freeing this patient, starting with the basics.

First Things First
Obviously at every extrication, there are many things that must happen prior to the cutting, spreading and lifting. The foundation of each extrication is the cribbing and stabilization of the vehicle. We have safety precautions of many sorts: inner/outer circle scan and a scene 360; inner trim removal and air bag location identification; possible movement of power seats, windows, etc. Most importantly, though, we need to identify all 12-volt batteries and the proper disconnections for these batteries. We must also have a clear and communicated game plan, and every firefighter must know his or her job.

Step-by-Step Dash Lift
Now to the actual lifting/jacking of the dash. For an effective dash lift, the A-pillar cannot be severely compromised. If it is, a dash roll is the more viable option.

Clearly, we need to see what we’re working on, so one of the first things I like to do when performing a dash lift is remove the door and front fender skin to expose the strut tower.

The strut tower is centered directly above the front wheel and, if exposed, is very easily identified. The relief cut MUST be made in front of the strut tower, between the windshield area and the strut tower. I cannot stress enough the importance of the location and depth of this relief cut. If this cut is on the wrong side of the strut tower or not deep enough through the frame, you will have limited dash displacement due to the lifting of the strut-wheel-axle portion and not the dash itself.

Cribbing must be placed under the rocker panel/bottom of the vehicle directly under the A-pillar area. I like to have a minimum of three pieces of 4 x 4 cribbing as a solid bottom plate and build up from there. The cribbing is a MUST for a successful dash lift.

The next step in this dash-lift process is the lower relief cuts on the lower portion of the A-pillar–the hinge side of the door we removed. The depth and distance of the relief cuts are vital to a successful dash displacement. The first cut should be as low as possible to the rocker panel, and the second cut should be 5 to 6 inches above the first cut; in other words, they should be large enough for you to accommodate your spreaders and work at a good degree or angle. Both cuts must be as deep as your cutters allow. Note: These cuts can also be performed with a reciprocating saw or Sawzall.

Once these two cuts are made, take the spreaders and pinch the 5—6″ area of the cut, and fold it away from the vehicle like a pull tab on a soda can. Place your spreaders inside this tab area 4 to 6 inches deep, snug them up firmly, and leave them secured and under pressure in place. It’s important to have these spreaders snug, in place and under pressure prior to the next step in our evolution.

Next, move to the upper portion of the A-pillar. Make two cuts and remove approximately a 3—5″ piece of this pillar. The location of these two cuts is not important; what is important is that we don’t cut through an air bag cylinder. These cylinders are often found in the upper A-pillar, so use caution and locate all air bag cylinders in the cutting areas.

In the step prior to this, we left our spreaders in place under pressure. Here’s why: When the second cut was made on the upper A-pillar, the potential settling and lowering of the dash can and will happen due to lack of connection and integrity of the A-pillar and frontal dash area. Without the presence of the spreaders under pressure in the lower A-pillar void area, the dash will want to relax on our patient and potentially cause further injury.

At this point, the windshield can be removed, but it is not a necessity. If there’s sufficient staffing to perform this minimal task, go ahead and do it.

The final step before lifting the dash is locating the dash tie-downs or dash straps. These are located under the dash, usually on each side of the lower console area and under some sort of plastic cover. These tie-downs usually look like flat pieces of metal or straps, but they can be bar-like in nature as well. The tie-downs are easily cut with a Sawzall and/or reciprocating saw. There are times when these dash tie-downs cannot be located due to patient location or interference. But if you can locate them, they will allow your dash to lift 30—40% more!

We’re now ready to lift the dash and free the patient. Simply pressurize the spreaders and lift the dash slowly and in a controlled fashion, leaving the spreaders wide enough to safely free and remove our patient. A word of caution: As we learned in school, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, so designate a firefighter to ensure that as we lift the dash to free the victim, we aren’t advertently pushing other pieces of dash or metal down onto the victim somewhere else.

In Sum
Dash-lifting/jacking is clearly a lengthy and intricate process, but as I mentioned, consistent training will help ensure efficiency and effectiveness. Remember to be systematic and sequential, following the steps outlined above, and you’ll be on your way to freeing your patient from a dashboard entrapment. Until next time, work smart, train hard and stay safe!

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