Dalton, Whitfield firefighters practice vehicle rescue skills

·4 min read

Jul. 22—The way vehicles are made, the materials used and the safety features built into them seem to change every year. and that makes keeping up with the skills needed to remove people from damaged vehicles after a wreck difficult, said Whitfield County Fire Department Training Capt. Jacob Chester.

"This stuff constantly changes," he said. "It's very hard to keep up with things, so the more often we are able to get this type of training, the better prepared we are when we have to use these tools on the job. The more efficient we are when we get on the scene, the better it is for the (person)."

Chester was one of about 30 firefighters taking part in extrication training Thursday at Edwards Park in Varnell arranged by CARSTAR body shops.

"I've been doing this 13 years," Chester said. "That's not a long time, but just in that short period, cars have drastically changed, and it seems to be progressing. It used to be that you could do a class like this every three years, and you'd be OK. Then, it was every two years. Now, you could do a class every six months and learn something."

Barry Hopper, sales manager with Hurst Jaws of Life, was one of the instructors.

"The biggest thing is that you have to control the event by the way we cut things, the way we spread things," he said. "The cars nowadays are likely to have pieces of metal flying off."

He said that's because of the way modern cars are built.

"Back in the 1960s, if you got in a bad wreck, the car would crush up like a tin can," he said. "Now, you look at a lot of wrecks and ask how those people survived. The answer is that the way the cars are built they channel the forces around the occupants. The way the carmakers put metals on cars isn't to protect the whole car. It's to protect the occupant, those in the vehicle."

Carl Raymond, rescue tools specialist for Municipal Emergency Services, a maker of firefighting equipment, was another instructor.

Both he and Hopper agreed the increasing popularity of electric vehicles is creating new challenges for firefighters.

"You've got two (electrical) systems in an electric vehicle," Raymond said. "You've got the high-voltage system, which runs the drive motors for the wheels, and you've got a 12-volt system, which runs the radio, interior lights, headlights. You've got to disconnect the 12-volt system because that operates the driver restraints including the air bags. If they (the airbags) didn't deploy, they become a hazard when we are trying to get someone out. If they accidentally deploy and we are in that zone, we can be struck by the airbags or the passenger can be struck."

How do firefighters decide where to start cutting on a vehicle to remove occupants?

"We do a walkaround," Raymond said. "We see how many patients we have, who seems to need care the most urgently and what's the best way to get them out."

"Every vehicle is different," added Hopper. "Every wreck is different."

Jamie White, owner of several CARSTAR bodyshops including CARSTAR North in Varnell, donated five vehicles for the exercise.

"We've got five more we are going to donate at a later date," he said. "We team up with the fire departments and the National Auto Body Council and some other groups. We deal with the insurance company, and they provide the cars to us, and we help set up the venue and the training."

White said he understands some of the challenges firefighters face when trying to extricate someone from a wrecked vehicle.

"We fix cars, so we are seeing the changes that are happening," he said. "We know the struggle we have with repairing them, so we think it's important that firemen understand how to cut them, like we do, so that when they get to the scene of a wreck they are able to get people out safely."

Chester thanked CARSTAR for helping to set up the training.

"We couldn't ask for a better group of people to work with," he said. "CARSTAR is always helping us get this type of training by getting these cars and setting up the training."