Wilton firefighters sharpen their rescue skills

Arms stuck in snowblowers, humans impaled on the spikes of a metal fence, a hand caught in a meat grinder, a person trapped under a car.

No one wants to think about finding themselves in one of these situations, but that’s exactly what members of the Wilton Fire Department were doing on Oct. 24 when they participated in a training session called Man vs. Machine.

Twenty-two of the department’s 26 members participated in the daylong session presented by instructors — all of whom were fellow firefighters — from PL Vulcan Fire Training Concepts.

The training helps firefighters “stay sharp in the skills needed in the field,” said Capt. Jeff Locher, who organized the event that included a morning of classroom instruction and then hands-on training in the afternoon.

“They are teaching us how to stabilize safely and effectively extricate” someone caught in a machine, he said.

“It’s a unique skill set. With these types of injuries you have to know what you’re doing,” Locher said. “Time is critical.

“When people call 911, our job is to fix whatever the problem is. We have to be prepared for anything,” he said. Group training like this, he said, keeps everyone on the same page.

One fairly common call the department receives is when someone can’t get a ring off their finger. It can be more serious than it sounds because blood can pool and create toxins.

“When you relieve the pressure, toxins can go back into the body,” Locher said, which is why it’s important to have a paramedic on hand to treat the victim.

In some cases, a Dremel tool might be used, but jewelry is made of all kinds of metal and a ring made of tungsten steel would need to be snipped off.

Out in the firehouse parking lot, a mannequin was impaled on metal rods that went through the upper torso. Impalement can be the result of falling off a ladder or roof and landing on a fence, or sledding into a tree limb. Last month in Danbury, someone was impaled during a car accident. Pulling a person off is not the answer.

Firefighters stabilized the mannequin with a backboard and harness, ensuring it would not fall when freed. They then considered what type of saw to use. A reciprocating saw, which goes back and forth, might be used to cut some parts of the fence but a band saw minimizes vibration and transfers less heat, so that would be the choice close to the victim. A piece of wood and towel kept the blade away from the patient.

The next station was freeing someone from under a car. There were several options here and the first choice was using a jack.

“How high do you have to lift a car?” asked instructor Phil Higgins, who is an assistant chief with the Fairfield Fire Department. The answer was unanimous. “As high as you need to.”

Other options included using a ladder as a lever based on wheel chocks that acted as a fulcrum.

A Hurst tool, which is a hydraulic rescue tool used for spreading, can also be turned on its side and used for lifting. A fourth option was to inflate air bags under the vehicle.

Other emergencies included freeing someone’s head caught between bars and releasing a child stuck in a kiddie swing. Interestingly, the string from a grass trimmer can be used to score or even cut through a plastic swing.

The final test was the snowblower and it was decided that removing the bolts to take the blade out in this case was easier and quicker than trying to cut through the metal.

“The opportunity of this happening in your district is pretty good,” said Mark Gregory, a captain with the New York City Fire Department and a partner at PL Vulcan.

The third instructor was Glenn Bullock, a retired firefighter with Rescue 1 in New York City.

Hand in hand with all of these efforts is patient stabilization that might include bleeding control, airway management, and pain management.

Emphasis was placed on stabilizing the machine, stabilizing the patient, developing multiple extrication plans, performing the extrication/entanglement, and planning how to transport the patient.

Capt. Kevin Czarnecki was among the firefighters who participated, crediting the program for covering not only the big things, but also “all the little things you come across over the years.”