Reporter experiences ‘removing the car from around the person’
By Brian Stanley firstname.lastname@example.org May 15, 2012 8:02PM
Updated: June 17, 2012 8:17AM
Hearing the first window pop was a relief because the sun had made it pretty hot inside the car.
“Don’t worry,” firefighter Cory Brenczewski said as he put a stabilizing collar around my neck. “It’s going to get a lot more open.”
Joliet Fire Capt. Greg Blaskey offered me the exciting chance to sit and do nothing Tuesday as an “incapacitated victim” while firefighters practiced vehicle extrications. I’d agreed without making sure I wasn’t expected to crash my own Jeep, but luckily Rendel’s Towing donated three old cars, including a blue Buick Regal. The cars were towed to the parking lot east of Memorial Stadium where each shift from Stations 6 and 7 will have a chance to open them like a can this week.
“Fortunately, we don’t have to use these tools all that often at crashes,” Blaskey explained. “So we do (stage) this training so everyone can be proficient with these tools for when we do need them.”
The firefighters approach to extrication is not removing a person from a car, but “removing the car from around the person.” Sometimes that can be done with just a hacksaw blade, but other times the hydraulic spreader or cutters are needed.
I put on coveralls and safety glasses and got behind the wheel, noticing a statue of the Virgin Mary that had been inside the Regal was now watching over us from the roof. I watched through the windshield as Battalion Chief LaRoy Aldridge hit his stopwatch and firefighters started moving toward the car.
I wasn’t in pain. I didn’t have any passengers. I wasn’t worried about leaking fuel or getting hit by a second vehicle, but hearing only muffled voices while waiting for something to happen wasn’t a pleasant experience. But after what seemed like a long minute, the window of the rear driver’s side door broke behind me and Brenczewski was in the back seat.
In a real crash, the medic would be starting an IV and clearing my airway if needed, but even if someone was somehow immobilized without being injured, the guy provides two other important safety measures.
He explains what’s coming next so anyone who can process it doesn’t panic and protects you from a lot of flying glass. After covering the steering wheel so the air bag wouldn’t deploy, Brenczewski positioned a blue blanket as a cover and deflector over my face while the remaining windows were struck out one after another.
I felt like I was taking enemy fire as glass flew from one direction and then the other. Snap. Crackle. Pop. But with a lot more thudding as the car rocked.
While the side window glass is relatively safe to handle, it’s the glass dust from the windshield that might be the most dangerous part for someone inside. After Brenczewski shifted the blanket, I could see shards and slivers on my lap and would swear I felt some on my exposed hands.
The hydraulics of the spreader and cutter are quiet away from the generator and all I heard was the creaking door one firefighter was told to secure with his backside so it wouldn’t swing open before they were ready.
The cutting continued and (except for a few customs and concept models found online) I became the first person to sit in the driver’s seat of a Regal convertible.
While I acted like dead weight, four firefighters put on the braces to keep me immobilized and ran straps under my legs. The stretcher was brought just up to the door frame for the two-step procedure of pulling me from the vehicle and setting me directly on the board.
The sun was directly overhead as they wheeled me over to the ambulance so I didn’t see who said, “Get the needle ready for the IV. I’ve never done a jugular before.”
Luckily, the drill ended when the patient reached the ambulance door and Aldridge stopped his watch 14 minutes after they started.
“It’s a good time. We want to get someone injured from the situation to a surgeon’s hands as quickly as possible. That’s the golden hour,” Blaskey said. “That’s why we have to practice extrications.”