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Emergency workers train for worst case accident scenarios

Training Officer Mike Ridlon uses the Jaws of Life to begin prying open a stuck car door. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)1 / 3
Firefighters Tim Little, at left, and Mark Gossman stabilize the neck of firefighter Bob Meier, who portrayed a car accident victim in need of rescue. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)2 / 3
Firefighter Kyle Little chops the windshield of a donated car apart. At left Ben Cumber is using tools to pry the door open. In the background Scott Burlingame watches the extrication. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)3 / 3

If the ice storm cometh, emergency personnel are ready.

Park Rapids firefighters and Emergency Medical Technicians from North Memorial Ambulance spent hours Wednesday night cross training in first aid and auto extrications.

"With nasty weather coming, we get these two-three car pileups and we'll need them to help us," EMT Bucky Johnson said of the fire department.

That was the scene on Christmas Eve when a family of five collided head-on with a single motorist west of Osage on Highway 34. Dozens of emergency personnel responded to the scene. The accident claimed one man's life and resulted in injuries to his children. It occurred during a snowstorm

Wednesday firefighters learned how to splint wounds, how to treat burns and cuts on the scene of an accident and how to quickly extricate wounded victims. EMTs saw how the Jaws of Life, a hatchet and giant bolt cutters could tear off the doors and top of a car if any victims are trapped inside.

"OK, this side of the car is wrapped up against a tree," said EMS trainer Shawna Fuhrer. "How are you going to get those people out?"

Fuhrer said the cross training is invaluable even if only needed once.

"We're stepping it up so they can help us on the scene working as a team," she said of the firefighters.

Speed is of the essence.

"Nineteen minutes," Fuhrer said, timing the operation of removing an injured driver.

EMTs volunteered as victims, guiding firefighters in their own first aid.

"That's too tight," a victim cautioned an over-zealous firefighter applying sterile gauze to a head wound.

The only thing missing were the screams of pain, but there was plenty of wincing.

"Do you have him on the center of the spine board?" Fuhrer asked a group removing someone from a car. Oops. Reposition.

Donned in their heavy turnout gear, firefighters worked hard and seriously at their tasks.

They carefully positioned necks and spines, delicately applying cervical collars with huge gloves on.

"Anybody got a seat belt cutter?" asked one firefighter. Teamwork prevailed. One was handed over immediately.

"Take her out," Fuhrer urged firefighters struggling with an injured driver. "It'll give us more room working on the other one."

"I'm going to get a bolt cutter," one firefighter announced when removing a victim proved tricky.

"We get ten, twelve calls like this a year with about half requiring extrication," said Fire Chief Donn Hoffman.

"You won't see much of this with new cars," he added. "They're built so safety you rarely see a death."

But they are training for the older models on the road. Dick's Auto Wrecking & Towing of Park Rapids donated the particular car used in the training exercise. It was driven into a stall at the fire department and will have to be towed out. It was demolished during the training.

"I'm sorry you didn't save this guy," Fuhrer told a group of firefighters who worked strenuously to remove a crash test dummy from a back seat. They looked crestfallen even though no actual death occurred.

"Utilize all your options," Fuhrer instructed, standing on the bumper of a fire truck. "If there's no one in the back seat, move that (front) seat all the way back" to give the rescuers more room.

Once the simple removals were over, the tools came out.

Firefighters cut into the vehicle's windshield braces, quickly removed the door, then the windshield itself, then the top of the car.

"Twenty one minutes," Johnson said, eyeing his watch.

They practiced cutting a steel piece off of a victim impaled with a long shard of metal that broke off the car.

"Don't remove it," Fuhrer said. "Don't twist it."

Then the firefighters wedged open the car's trunk in a scenario where a victim might be trapped there.

Another oops - an excited firefighter yanked the hapless dummy from the trunk and heaved it to the ground.

The sweating firefighters broke out into laughter.

But out on a real accident scene, it's deadly serious stuff. No one is laughing.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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