Donations create training opportunities

For firefighters, it wasn't a typical vehicle extraction. Yes, they employed the usual hydraulic tools -- the Jaws of Life -- and saws to get to the patient, but they also employed ladders and ingenuity to peel into the big rig parked in front of...

Superior Firefighter, Greg Winters, cuts a windshield on a semi-tractor as a water spray helps keep glass dust down during training last week at the Superior Fire Department headquarters on Tower Avenue. Jed Carlson /

For firefighters, it wasn’t a typical vehicle extraction.

Yes, they employed the usual hydraulic tools - the Jaws of Life - and saws to get to the patient, but they also employed ladders and ingenuity to peel into the big rig parked in front of headquarters on Tower Avenue last week.

Over three days, all 36 firefighters had a chance to train on less customary crash scenarios they could face in real life, using props donated by Lake City Towing, Lakeside Towing and Jeff Foster trucking.

"We can practice under a controlled setting; we can look at safety," said Superior Battalion Chief Scott Gordon. "We can take this practical knowledge and apply it to different things."

Firefighters took turns sawing at piano-style hinges - not your typical automobile door hinge -using familiar tools in new ways. Using heavy hydraulic tools proved more challenging as firefighters balanced on a ladder to peel open the large door of a semi-tractor, strapping it to control the drop when it finally broke loose from its mooring.


Then firefighters attempted to pull a gasket to remove a portion of the windshield to get to the patient inside.

As rubber ripped in small strips, firefighters changed their strategy, opting instead to cut the glass, first using axes to create a break a line in the glass, which allowed them to use an electric saw to remove a large section of the windshield.

But they weren’t done yet. Balancing on a ladder, they took turns slicing through the side of the sleeper compartment to provide an opening to pull the patient from the vehicle on a backboard.

"I would’ve used the ladder to glide the patient from the truck," said Mike Hoyt of the Superior Fire Department, who was observing the exercise and offering advice for the uncommon extraction procedure.

But even when the patient - a dummy - was safely extracted from the semi-tractor, firefighters work wasn’t done.

There was still the vehicle wedged under a propane truck to contend with. It’s a scenario the fire department dealt with in earlier this year when a car and semi crashed at the intersection U.S. Highway 2 and E Street in Superior. The vehicle was wedged under the trailer of the semi.

Gordon said during that incident everyone was working so fast, no one really knows what happened, who did what, and what worked best or didn’t work well.

"A version of this scenario happens on a yearly basis," Gordon said. However, training for the scenario is a rare opportunity, one that allows firefighters to gain the skills to deal with a variety of scenarios - whether it’s a car that slammed into a bridge or extricating patients from another large vehicle, such as a bus.


"We get to talk about all of this when we’re done," said Superior Fire Capt. Chris Opheim. "It’s easier to let them screw up. They learn it better that way. Otherwise if you just tell them what to do, there’s 19 chiefs in the room. Now they can see it."

Hoyt said dealing with a car wedged under a large truck isn’t a simple matter of lifting the truck off the vehicle.

While the propane truck was partially off the ground, he said simply the lifting the larger vehicle with cribbing would not release the car because the compressed struts on the car would simply expand to keep the car wedged under the truck.

To extract the patient from the car, firefighters would have to lift the truck and move the car clear of the truck before extrication could begin, Hoyt said.

"We really have no idea how we’re going to do it," Gordon said. "The instructor’s just going to let them do it. The truck is off the ground. Our biggest problem is going to be stabilizing that."

It’s training the fire department wouldn’t normally get without the donations of the vehicles to give firefighters first-hand experience with working with the larger vehicles, Gordon said.

After all, working on a semi-tractor - with its height and different hinging system featuring a two-foot long piano-style hinge on the door - requires a different set of skills, using familiar tools in new ways and problem-solving to overcoming the challenges.

Following each day’s training, Hoyt said firefighters would have the opportunity to discuss the training, figure out what did and didn’t work, and would be better prepared for a real incident.


"We’ve done auto extrication a lot," Gordon said. "We’ve never actually done auto extrication on a semi-tractor … the hard part is getting a tractor a company would actually donate to us."

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