Firefighters in the Glebe

HANDS ON TRAINING TO SAVE LIVES
By Julie Houle Cezer
Photos by Lois Siegel

Have you have ever paid a visit to the Glebe’s Station 12? If so, you may have already met some of the 28 firefighters making up the four rotating platoons that call Fifth Avenue and O’Connor home base. Like teams in five other stations across the city, these professionals, in addition to fighting fires, are tasked by Ottawa Fire Services (OFS) with providing heavy rescue. For Station 12, this takes the form of delivering both high angle rescue (See the Glebe Report, April, 2014) and vehicle extrication.
For first responders arriving at vehicle crashes and rollovers, time is always of the essence, and good preparation, teamwork, knowledge of protocols and mastery of their tools are all key to successfully rescuing victims both quickly and safely. According to OFS statistics, some 120 of the total 3567 road collisions in Ottawa in 2013 required extrication while in 2014, more than 75 of the 2420 road accidents on record by the end of September have called for this type of heavy rescue.

The hydraulic cutter plays a central role in speedy roof removal. Photo: Lois Siegel

The hydraulic cutter plays a central role in speedy roof removal. Photo: Lois Siegel

For rookies and veterans alike, maintaining a high level of readiness for such emergencies requires repeated hands-on trainings like the one that photographer Lois Siegel and I witnessed over the summer on the grounds of the Kenny U Pull on Bentley Road. One objective that sunny morning was for the team to practise extrication techniques on both an upright car and a rollover (or limited access vehicle) utilizing a range of rescue tools commonly referred to as the “jaws of life. “ For the Station 12 vehicle rescue unit, the most utilized of these tools have proven to be the ultra-light and high- powered hydraulic cutters and spreaders, in this case manufactured by the Dutch company Homaltro.

An important goal of the drill taking place that day was for the firefighters to refine individual and team technique aimed at creating enough physical space around a trapped victim to allow for access and his or her safe and timely removal. Most notable to an interested bystander were the methodical steps taken both to detach the roof and to take off front and back doors in a single piece, made possible by making precise cuts in and around the A,B,C vertical structural posts supporting the front and back doors of the vehicle.

Ostensibly, this remodeling of an SUV into a “dune buggy “or a sedan into a convertible using über power tools might appear to be a bit of a lark; however, it’s actually serious business since to be effective in dealing with motor vehicle extractions, firefighters need to become highly familiar with the details of the structural designs, safety features and construction materials used in the makes and models of automobile on the road today.

And this is where any of you readers with an old car destined for the junkyard can choose to provide firefighters with some additional experience: support OFS training by donating your scrap vehicle and receive a $500 tax receipt to boot. You can easily launch that process by calling the Vehicle Donation Program at 613-580-2424 ext 29621 or visit Ottawa.ca for more information.

SKILL-BUILDING FOR LIFE

OFS officers Marc Messier, Captain Brian Clarke and Acting Lieutenant Al Lavigne. Photo: Lois Siegel

OFS officers Marc Messier, Captain Brian Clarke and Acting Lieutenant Al Lavigne. Photo: Lois Siegel

Conducted under the direction of OFS officers Marc Messier, Captain Brian Clarke and Acting Lieutenant Al Lavigne, this simulated extrication is just one of the many training opportunities designed to keep heavy rescue professional skills sharp and up-to-date. Short of real-time experiences, such hands-on scenarios serve as a challenge to Station12 platoon members to implement protocols in assessing and securing a scene (Hydro wires, traffic control), stabilizing both a vehicle and a victim, formulating an action plan to extricate the patient and preparing him or her for medical transport in a timely fashion, cleaning up debris and contaminants and finally, practising team decision-making and communication throughout the operation.

Removing the roof using a hydraulic cutter. Photo: Lois Siegel

Removing the roof using a hydraulic cutter. Photo: Lois Siegel

At the best of times, attending at a motor vehicle accident on-or off-road presents first responders with an inherently fluid or “dynamic” situation that requires ongoing reassessment of needs and responses from start to finish at every level of decision-making. On the ground, where a multiplicity of variables makes any incident complex, teams of front-line actors are encouraged to practise task-oriented problem-solving, proceeding on the premise that there is always more than one way to approach any obstacle. For example, while one or two team members may be engaged in a particular action, those that are standing back are equally involved, using their peripheral vision and analytic skills to envision alternative approaches and if need be, direct a change in technique. Where time is of the essence, this team-based decision-making capacity in first responders may make the difference between life and death for victims.

Former Glebe Report editor Julie Houle Cezer wrote a companion article on Station 12 and high angle training in the April 2014 Glebe Report. Photographer Lois Siegel is a long-time contributor to the newspaper.

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