A nationwide focus is underway to train firefighters to respond to incidents involving heavy equipment
Firefighters are well trained in the art of rescuing individuals from dangerous situations. Whether they are found scaling a ladder to pull an individual from a burning building, using hydraulic cutters to free a family from a crushed vehicle, or helping local responders during a natural disaster, firefighters must be prepared for any situation. One of the most dangerous calls a firefighter can receive is an accident involving heavy machinery. Due to the extreme size, weight, and volatility of construction equipment, agricultural implements, and other massive machines, the possibility of a firefighter being severely injured is more likely than in many other types of calls. To address this, fire departments across the nation have begun conducting heavy equipment response drills. The goal is to better prepare first responders to handle calls involving heavy equipment in a safe manner.
Common situations become dangerous when heavy equipment is involved
A recent incident in West Virginia involved an excavator and a dangerous collapse. The excavator and operator were actively involved in tearing down an existing structure when the footing underneath the excavator gave way. The entire machine tipped and caused the operator to become trapped. Local responders were able to safely rescue the individual, but the incident was a reminder that these heavy machines demand a different approach when the situation takes a turn for the worse. The local fire department replicated this exact scenario during subsequent training exercises to reinforce the real-world relevance of heavy equipment response protocols.
The Pittsville, WI fire department recently began training for situations involving heavy equipment, and has received help from local military installations as well as public companies and private foundations. The US Air Force at Volk Field loaned a wheel loader and semi-trailer to the local fire department and several businesses and private groups donated money to permit the purchase of air bag systems. Using the loaned wheel loader as well as the semi-trailer, the Pittsville fire department practiced lifting these massive units off the ground using an innovative low-pressure, high lift airbag system.
The standard airbags used by fire departments around the nation are generally a high pressure, low lift design. The airbags that are more effective when used with heavy equipment are high lift designs that use a lower pressure pump. This means less distortion of the ground beneath the airbag, and a higher lift capability for high-clearance machinery. One problem discovered by fire departments that use standard airbag systems is that the areas in which heavy machinery see frequent use may be on or around soft soils and muddy terrain. This is not the ideal environment for a high-pressure lift system or jack, so the low pressure, high lift airbags are perfectly suited to heavy equipment incidents.
With the help of local and national organization, as well as private funding measures, fire departments across the nation will continue to prepare themselves for incidents involving heavy equipment and agricultural machinery.