Vehicle Extrication

posted May 19, 2014, 3:47 PM by Paul Halliday   [ updated May 20, 2014, 4:38 AM ]
Last week I had the opportunity to practice a vehicle extrication (sans victim). The exercise included stabilizing the vehicle, removing the windows and rear windshield and lastly using a hydraulic spreader and cutter to remove the doors and roof.

I am not going to describe the entire process in detail; just a very general summary of the evening. We started off talking about safety (did this car hit a power pole and is now draped in high voltage lines?), approaches and dealing with victims. The most important piece I gleaned from this was that once you make contact with a victim (resources permitting) you stay with them.

Vehicle stabilization in this contrived mock up was pretty simple. The importance of this step was a little lost on me at first (I thought we were just blocking the car in case it was in gear) but after seeing what was going on I got it.

Step blocks were placed under each jack point and adjusted so that they were as snug as possible. Once complete, each tires valve stem was yanked with pliers allowing the car to settle fully onto the blocks. It's that easy. Working on the vehicle after this point will transfer most of the vibrations and shocks into the ground instead of the victim(s).

Next we got to knock the windows out (bringing back the kid in me). We were using spring loaded windows punches which are incredibly effective. You want to aim high on the window (a top corner) and of course be very careful removing the glass after it is fractured, a multi tool will do.

There was a 'no mess' window break that was demonstrated which can be used if you have access to a manual window control. All you need to do is get the window as low into the door as possible and then tap the top edge with something heavy (like a halligan) and you confine the mess to within the door. Neat. 

It was now time to break out some lights and fire up the hydraulic pump for the tools (it looks like a small generator). There was a focus here on the necessity of communication between the operator of the pump and the tool operator. This adds a level of safety to ensure that the tools are only operable while they are immediately needed and also can be shut off at the source if required.

The tools themselves are very simple in design and easy to manage and operate even with heavy gloves on. The primary control which rotates (clockwise to close counter to open) protrudes from the back of the tool and doubles as a handle. This combined with the ring grip makes this tool quite comfortable and manoeuvrable in either hand and at any angle. 


There is no real prep work before using the cutter (providing the windows are all out) but before using the spreader you first need to make a purchase point for the tips of the tool on the area you will be working on. This can be done quite quickly with two people using a halligan tool and a maul. You want the purchase point to be as close to the locking mechanism as possible. The rule of thumb we were using is a hands width below the keyway. You don't need to go too crazy hammering away here, the opening just needs to be large enough to get the tips in.

It took me a few iterations until I found the proper rhythm. Short bursts and frequent repositioning is far more effective (and quicker) than long bursts (wide openings) which seem to just make a mess. The rear doors are a little trickier than the passenger doors owing to the overlap over the rear wheel well. This not only makes the purchase point a little tougher to establish but you also need to get through a little more material before you find the latch.

The cutters make short work of the pillars. You need to be mindful of jaws skewing (passing over the material instead of through it) which could shatter the hardened tips. Also, if the tool tries to turn over in your hands, back it off and flip it over and try to cut through again.

It was a great night and I learned quite a bit. As for the Honda..