Auto extrication is the science of removing a vehicle from around a patient. Firefighters dismantle the vehicle and
keep the patient still, to avoid further injury to the neck or spine. A second crew guards against fire, as
gasoline leaks are common at major accidents. Paramedics direct the careful immobilization and removal of the
patient to a stretcher. They also treat injuries and provide transportation to the hospital. Police investigate
the accident and handle traffic control.
In the past, the fire department responded to car accidents with possible victims trapped only if requested by
police or ambulance. As the golden hour paradigm took hold in the medical community, response protocols changed.
People realized the importance of dispatching firefighters immediately to all accidents with injuries. When
firefighters became Emergency Medical Technicians, the service picture improved - they were able to perform
extrication and patient care.
One of the first extrication tools on the department was a hydraulic hand pump with spreader. It worked, but it was
slow and had limited power. Next, was an early "Jaws of Life" unit. It had a gas engine with hydraulic pump and
was not always dependable.
Today's extrication equipment is much better. Hydraulic power is adaptable and reliable. Tools are light, fast,
and friendly. Firefighters possess better techniques and skills to rescue victims from damaged vehicles. But,
there is also new risk. Since the introduction of the safety airbag, rescuers in the U.S. have been injured while
working inside and around damaged vehicles. With a discharge speed of 200 mph, an airbag is a potent force. At
first, airbags were placed in the steering wheel. Now, airbags are placed in doors, doorposts, and ceilings.
Learning how to work around airbags and/or deactivate them has been challenging.
Another major risk during extrication is passing motorists. Each year, emergency personnel are struck and killed on
roads and highways. Awareness campaigns by MNDOT have been helpful, yet secondary accidents remain a constant
threat to fire/EMS and police personnel. Extrication equipment is kept on 8 Truck in Spirit Valley and Rescue 1
downtown. To keep their skills sharp, firefighters practice on cars donated by a local salvage company. Hands-on
work is supplemented by classroom time where both techniques and hazards are discussed.