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Friday, April 10, 2009

Heavy Lifters Can Boost Rescues

Here's a good story from The Daily News Record of Harrisonburg, VA:
By Pete DeLea

HARRISONBURG - In most crashes, tow trucks are dispatched to haul away the crumpled vehicles. But soon, some area heavy-tow-truck drivers might be joining the rescue efforts. A two-day training exercise held Tuesday and Wednesday at Rockingham Scrap Metal on North Liberty Street was designed to show rescuers how they can work with heavy tow trucks to help free cars pinned under buses and tractor-trailers.

Instructors say a trained driver can make the extrication process safer for rescuers and allow emergency personnel to get to patients in a matter of minutes, not hours. "Their equipment is a lot faster than ours," said John Burruss, an instructor for the Virginia Department of Fire Programs. "They're going to be lifesavers." During training exercises Wednesday, the 30-member regional heavy-rescue team composed of firefighters from Harrisonburg, Staunton, Waynesboro and Augusta and Rockingham counties were handed three challenges. All the challenges included a car being stuck underneath old Harrisonburg City Transit buses, which were donated for the exercise.

Bus Crashes Car
In one challenge, firefighters responded to a bus overturned on a compact car, crushing the roof and trapping the driver. "Sometimes it looks unrealistic, but I've been doing it for 30 years and at some point, these [firefighters] are going to be in a situation with this degree of difficulty," said Burruss, who added they don't get enough experience on the job. "If we only do this two or three times a year, we're not any good at it." For more than an hour, firefighters used whatever was on their trucks to secure the bus and attempt to lift it off the car. After more than an hour, the car wasn't free. That's when a heavy tow truck stepped in and helped lift the bus off the car. "The equipment we have will lift it, but it will take us forever," Burruss said. "We're learning how these trucks can make it much easier to lift. "In 10 minutes, it's going to do what it took us 90 minutes to do."
Rare But Possible
Lt. Scott Allison of the Harrisonburg Fire Department said these incidents don't happen often. But, when they do, Allison said it's usually a result of a car rear-ending a tractor-trailer on the interstate. In such cases, the car often is pinned underneath the truck. "These situations are pretty rare," said Allison. But he said they are dangerous situations because the trucks or buses can topple over on rescuers as they are attempting to secure or lift the vehicle. "They're low-frequency but high-risk." Kenny McKenzie, owner of Trans Tech Towing in Broadway, donated the use of four trucks and seven employees. He said the cross-training exercise will give his crew the experience to help in life-or-death situations. "We want the firefighters to have confidence in what we can do, so when they need our assistances in extrication they will call on us," McKenzie said. Contact Pete DeLea at 574-6278 or

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