St. George firefighters use retired school bus for rescue training

Firefighters cut through door of school bus during extrication training held on Brigham Road, St. George, Utah, Jan. 4, 2018 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News.

ST. GEORGE —  Children take the school bus so they can go learn more and, Thursday, so did firefighters — except they cut the bus to pieces.

For fire department personnel, hands-on training prepares crews for real-life scenarios and allows for the development of the skills needed to be a safe and effective rescuer, and getting scrap vehicle to tear apart can be hard to come by, particularly a larger vehicle, like a school bus.

Firefighters remove roof of school bus during extrication training held on Brigham Road, St. George, Utah, Jan. 4, 2018 | Photo courtesy of Robert Stoker, St. George News.

Firefighters save more lives using extrication tools than from any other piece of equipment on the truck, according to Homer Robertson, an expert in firefighting apparatus. The need for extrication is a daily occurrence throughout Utah.

To support its training for that lifesaving service, the St. George Fire Department procured a school bus from the Washington County School District, which retired several buses after receiving a grant to purchase new ones.

The opportunity to train on a school bus is an event that only occurs about every two to three years, St. George Fire Chief Robert Stoker said.

Thursday’s training was held in the large parking lot of the Washington County School District’s maintenance and school bus office located on Brigham Road starting at 1 p.m.

Firefighters attend weekly training exercises for general firefighting and rescue functions, as well as monthly training events that focus on various disciplines their particular position entails, Stoker said.

The monthly training exercises are required for certification purposes and for fire technicians who specialize in a particular discipline, such as trench rescue, confined space, rope rescue, hazardous materials, extrication and other specialties.

“Our guys need to stay current on their training hours to keep their certifications, but it’s important to maintain technical level skills, and these high-risk, low-frequency skills are critical,” Stoker said.

He went on to say that it is not uncommon for the fire department to respond to crashes that involve trapped occupants in either semitractor-trailers or buses, he said, and it is becoming more common as traffic increases. He referred to the recent Greyhound bus crash on I-70 last weekend that left one person dead and several seriously injured.

Read more:  Girl dies, others seriously injured after Greyhound bus crashes off I-70.

When the department responds to a traffic crash or incident involving a bus, for example, the risk increases “exponentially due to the number of occupants that could either be trapped or injured,” the chief said.

Firefighters cut through window of school bus during extrication training held on Brigham Road, St. George, Utah, Jan. 4, 2018 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News.

Addressing the challenges faced with this type of rescue, St. George Fire Capt. Coty Chadburn, said, “When it comes to school buses, there are a lot of kids, a lot of risk, and training is what helps us to gain access to the injured and rescue them.”

Chadburn also mentioned the “golden hour,” a term in emergency medicine that refers to a time period lasting from a few minutes to several hours following traumatic injury when prompt lifesaving measures are most critical.

During rescue operations, larger vehicles present added challenges that their smaller counterparts don’t, in addition to size and occupant loads, they are manufactured differently.

One of the most important aspects of extrication refers to firefighter safety. Regular training minimizes hazards while it maximizes safety for those who respond to any vehicle extrication, which often involves the use of rescue tools.

St. George Fire has multiple sets of hydraulic rescue tools — generically referred to as “Jaws of Life” even though it is a trademarked name — in addition to battery-powered rescue tools that are compact, have no cables that can become tangled and work in tight spaces.

Firefighters attend extrication training held on Brigham Road, St. George, Utah, Jan. 4, 2018 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News.

The challenges faced when responding to traffic collisions involving passenger cars have also increased, and fire department personnel have to contend with front, rear and side airbags, and even electric cars with cabling.

“We used to only have to contend with frontal air bags, so we could cut through the roof of the car and just remove it, but now, we have to be careful not to cut through the air bag while we are trying to get to a victim, or we could set the air bag off,” Stoker said.

When an air bag is triggered in a moderate-to-severe crash, it can deploy at nearly 200 miles per hour.

Electric cars generally have cabling running from the battery to power the vehicle, and cutting through any of that cabling can be deadly for firefighters, so being able to identify the cables, the location and then having the ability to disarm them reduces the risk.

The extrication exercise provided specialized instruction for gaining access into a vehicle, and reaching the injured occupant inside without causing further injury, which can be accomplished by “removing the car from the patient, not to remove the patient from the car,” the chief said.

Removing the vehicle piece by piece away from the injured occupant requires more time, but is better in the long run and protects them from unnecessary movement that can cause further injury.

Training helps firefighters make the right decisions and complete skills and maneuvers proficiently and consistently, giving them the ability to perform regardless of the challenges to be encountered during an emergency incident.


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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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