Using Burned Vehicles for Supplemental Training

One year ago, in the September 2010 edition of In-Depth Extrication, I discussed a creative training evolution involving the evaluation of wrecked vehicles at local tow companies. In short, I explained why we must be creative with our training efforts, particularly to ensure that the training we conduct is highly intensive and replicates real-world conditions as much as possible. Read the full article here.

Expanding on that article, this installment of In-Depth Extrication will focus on what you need in order to develop extrication-related training sessions that don’t require the use of junked cars, as well as a good supplemental training idea and your logistical needs for this type of training.

See Inside
Fire companies routinely respond to vehicle fires that involve the engine compartment, passenger compartment and/or trunk areas. Although the extent of the damage may vary, fire burns away the non-metal components used mainly for cosmetics. This gives responders the chance to view a car for what it really is. Being able to view the remains of the vehicle helps reinforce some basic principles of vehicle construction as well as why we use certain tactics. The most advantageous areas to inspect are those within the passenger compartment, including seats, posts, dashes and steering wheels.

Examine the burned vehicle with the following in mind:

  • SRS components and locations that should be avoided
  • Pre-existing holes in structural components that can be utilized when making cuts
  • Size, locations and potential problems of construction features
  • Tools needed to remove nuts and bolts during disassembly tactics
  • Composite skin locations and how it affects tactics

Burned Car Examples
For example, the vehicle in Photo 1 was fully involved upon arrival of fire companies, and damage was significant. Anyone with knowledge of extrication should be able to identify the dash and steering wheel components. Also, pre-existing holes in the posts and roof rails are evident, supporting the need to remove trim prior to making cuts.

In Photo 2, first responders examined a higher-end vehicle, helping them determine the best methods to accomplish various seat tactics. Along with the evaluation of seat tactics, they were able to identify multiple safety features, providing great discussions about how they related to certain tactics. Because the vehicle was a convertible, responders were able to view a lack of roof structure and the reinforcement in the Alpha-post.

Supplemental Training
Most departments require companies to remain on scene after the fire has been extinguished to ensure the roadway is safely and properly cleared. After all the necessary information is gathered, there’s usually a few minutes of downtime prior to the recovery vehicle removing the vehicle from the scene. As soon as the apparatus is placed back in a state of readiness, take a few minutes to evaluate the vehicle’s remains. This also serves as an additional step to ensure that the fire has been completely extinguished.

Many fire service educators have advocated the benefits of being observant during home inspections, EMS calls, smoke detector installation, etc.  Responders should make mental pictures of items, such as room layouts, stair positions, furnishing locations and floor coverings. Firefighters can recall this information as needed when caught in zero-visibility situations. It may even prove to be life-saving. Why not have the same mindset when evaluating a burned vehicle? It’s comparable in that you’re taking advantage of every opportunity to increase proficiency in operations. Responders who can recall vehicle construction and other characteristics can apply that information later when called upon to make tactical decisions on the extrication scene.

A note about safety: Company officers should follow departmental standard operating procedures and national standards to protect responders from the hazards of highway incidents, particularly to ensure the proper use of blocking positions, warning devices and traffic vests. If there are any safety concerns, stay away from the danger area and avoid the impromptu training.

Responders continually make statements about the importance of realistic and valuable hands-on training. A vehicle fire incident provides company officers with an opportunity to supplement extrication training. After all, evaluating a burned vehicle provides a short, highly rewarding training session that develops a learning culture within the company.

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