New stabilizing equipment helping rescue workers
Two small pieces of equipment made a monumental difference recently at a motor vehicle crash scene - to the rescuers and the rescued.
And Park Rapids Fire Chief Donn Hoffman said it illustrates just how dangerous accident scenes can be to those who respond.
Called TeleCrib® struts, the lightweight stabilizing pieces of composite material were employed Nov. 30 to hold up a rolled Jeep on Highway 34 so crews could quickly free the driver.
The struts use pegs, holes and a ratchet strap cinched tight to telescope upwards, lifting the car with them.
"They're awesome," Hoffman said. "I honestly think if we didn't have those on that particular scene it would have been marginally safe because the rest of the stuff we used before we got those (struts) wouldn't have taken care of that car like they did.
"We weren't even able to access the car because it was so unstable. It was very dangerous," he said.
Five people were taken to St. Joseph's Area Health Services when two vehicles collided head-on that night on an icy highway.
The 1999 Jeep driven by Julie Karl, 27, of Akeley, overturned on its side.
"We had a First Responder on the scene before we got there and a fireman on the scene that came from his home and he actually stopped the First Responder from going in that vehicle until we had it stabilized," said Mike Ridlon, the Fire Department's safety officer. "You couldn't have worked on that vehicle the way it was. You couldn't get in there to help her, the way it was, it just was teetering."
In the old days, the beefiest of firefighters would try to prop up an overturned car with their body weight or use a jack or a wooden wedge for initial stabilization. The struts, made out of Kevlar, which also lines bulletproof vests, quickly held the car so rescue crews could get Karl out.
Ridlon conceded firefighters have climbed into or on top of rocking vehicles before to extricate victims. Now they don't have to.
"You start prying and pushing on those and it'll go one way or the other," he said. A car could topple while rescue crews were working on it.
"With the rescue struts, "you could actually jack a car up off another car and they'll lift the (top) car," Ridlon said.
The icy conditions at the accident scene compounded the danger factor. Firefighters and officers slipped and slid at the scene.
All five vehicle occupants were quickly transported to St, Joseph's Area Health Services, where they were treated and released that same night.
And both Hoffman and Ridlon believe there could have been a few firefighters included in that toll if not for the new equipment.
"We'd had them two months," Ridlon said of the struts. "They were brand new. All we've ever done with them is train. That was the first time we'd used them and they worked awesome. They made all the difference in the world."