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Improving the odds: Rescuers upgrade extrication tools

In mid-January, Ashland Fire & Rescue received training on extrication equipment that will make their most important job easier: saving lives.

Purchased with an $80,000 Assistance to Firefighters Grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the life-saving equipment will allow Ashland firefighters to more swiftly and safely remove car accident victims from crushed vehicles.

The grant enabled the purchase of several piece of a cutter, a spreader, and two types of rams that will be placed on each of the first two fire engines out. The cutter slices through the structure of a vehicle, while the spreader widens a gap between two vehicles panels (such as between two doors or between a door and a fender). The rams are a highly versatile tool, capable of doing everything from enlarging holes for extrication to displacing steering columns. New airbags, cribbing, and struts were also purchased with the grant, tools which complement the extrication equipment by allowing for the stabilization of vehicles to facilitate a safer rescue.

Prior to these additions, neither of the engines responded with extrication equipment.

The life-saving equipment was developed in the 1960s by George Hurst, a mechanical engineer and auto-racing enthusiast, who conceived of the idea after witnessing a racecar crash. Though rescue equipment did exist at the time, many of the tools were loud, unstable, or slow, often panicking the victim further or simply taking too long to rescue them from their vehicles. After watching rescuers struggle for over an hour to remove the injured driver from his mangled car, Hurst began to design safer and more efficient extrication equipment.

Hurst’s tools were introduced to fire and rescue services in 1971 and have been indispensable ever since. Nicknamed the "Jaws of Life" for the way they snatch people from the Jaws of Death, these tools have been used on the scene of disasters of all scales, from car wrecks in towns across America to Ground Zero in the aftermath of 9/11. 

Tidings intern Samantha Bruce is a journalism student at Southern Oregon University.