When it comes to extrication tools, everyone has their personal preferences. Having the opportunity to travel the country teaching, I have had the opportunity to use most the tools out there at one time or another. This weeks “Quick Tip” will cover my personal opinion on the controversial topic of tool sizes/weights. You will get various opinions from vendors, manufacturers, instructors, and ones that do it regularly and those that don't. You wouldn't ask a lawyer what his favorite surgical tool is. Just like I like to focus on specs from manufacturers and tactics/opinions from the "street soldiers". This is not a plug for what tool companies are the best and for that reason I will not get into brands/tool manufacturers at all…period. This week I will cover what works for me and why. The majority of tool manufacturers are pretty spot in regards to tolerances and performance. In recent years I have seen a trend to make tools “lighter & smaller.” So the question I must ask, does size matter? For example, does a short arm/lighter spreader have more benefit and usability than a long arm/heavier spreader? Is the largest cutter always the most usable? At FDIC 2016 I had the opportunity to speak with some very high level CEO’s in the tool market. During these conversations, they asked about various tools and my opinion. Both men were surprised when I told them I would take a heavier spreader with longer arms over a smaller tool that was lighter. Here is why….
When it comes to spreaders, I look at overall usability. Evaluate the last couple extrications worked and ask a couple questions.
How long was the spreader positioned/held over waist high?
How long was the tool used continuously?
Could you have completed the operation more efficiently with more or less spread?
Was weight an obvious issue?
Now do the same for cutters.
Was weight an obvious issue?
How long was the tool used throughout the extrication?
Could you have been more efficient with larger or smaller blade cutters?
Did you run into UHSS or difficult areas to cut?
My tool of choice when it comes to spreaders are long arm of 32’’ +. We carry 40’’ and 32’’ on hydraulic setups, and 28’’ on the battery sets. Can we do anything with smaller and light spreaders? Of course with a variation of tactics, but in my humble opinion, the reduction of weight (small arm spreaders) does not match the versatility and capabilities of long arm spreaders. Recently we responded to a driver trapped by the dash (side resting vehicle-passenger side down). The long arm spreaders worked flawlessly to free the occupant by completing a dash displacement from the transmission column up to the dash support bar. It worked without fail but used every inch of spread on the 32” spreaders. This tactic wouldn’t have worked with a smaller arm set. I like vertical door crushes, a whole handful of dash displacements, plan Z tactics and in many instances, have maxed out long on spreaders during challenging situations. In regards to cutters bigger isn’t always better. Both types of cutters have their places and many times, it can be difficult to get into areas to cut with thick/long blade cutters (ex. lower B post cut on side out). However, when it’s time to cut UHSS or other advanced steels the larger cutters capabilities are unmatched. We currently run two cutters using the smaller on an estimated 75% of calls, leaving the big boys for the other 25% (Heavier cutting).
Am I saying that small/lighter spreaders don’t have their place? No. Your decision will vary depending on your response area, apparatus, manpower, etc. This is just my opinion responding to high speed areas/heavily damaged vehicles requiring a lot of displacement to free trapped occupants. But don't take my opinion for it. Get out there and formulate your own. Nevertheless, in my opinion…Size does matter.
ISAAC FRAZIER is a Special Operations Lieutenant with St. Johns County Florida’s Heavy Rescue “Squad 4”. First due to the deadliest stretch of roadway in the nation, Frazier teaches from personal street experience providing tried and true tactics. Frazier is the owner of Tactical Advantage Training and creator of the course Tactical Extrication. Frazier travels nationally sharing his passion teaching fire and extrication courses. Frazier is a FDIC lead HOT instructor, FDIC lecturer, Fire Engineering Contributor, Fire Officer II, FL Paramedic, Special Operations Officer, Florida State Instructor, FLUSAR Tech, Diver, and FL Hazmat Tech. www.TrainTacticalAdvantage.com