Conn. firefighters train for extrication, rescue work

By Josh Kovner
Hartford Courant
Copyright 2007 The Hartford Courant Company
All Rights Reserved

MIDDLETOWN, Conn. — Firefighters are wrapping up seven weeks of training to perform rescues at crash scenes that involve trucks and heavy construction equipment, inspired, in part, by the accident-plagued stretch of Route 9 that runs through the city.

At emergencies such as these, firefighters use air bags, wooden struts and large ratcheted belts to shore up vehicles that are in precarious positions — a necessity before they can begin to work on the victims.

Such a scenario -- a box truck crushed a sport-utility vehicle, trapping two mannequins inside the flattened SUV -- was presented to firefighters at a training session Wednesday.

Using saws and electric and hydraulic tools, it took a little less than an hour to cut away enough of the SUV to extract the mannequins, secure them to backboards and ready them for what would be an ambulance or helicopter ride. The training ground was Jukonski's truck graveyard off Thomas Street, and the Middletown department hosted firefighters from the South and Westfield districts, and from Hamden and New Haven.

All 52 front-line firefighters in the Middletown Fire Department are preparing for a written and practical test in July that's given by the state fire academy.

If they pass, each becomes a certified vehicle and machinery rescue technician, adding to a training arsenal that already includes certifications in medical response, hazardous-material operations, and rope and confined-space rescues.

Preparation for the seven-week training course was as complex as the work itself.

Police Officer Craig Elkin and a city-based towing company obtained 29 inoperable vehicles, some of them abandoned on city streets, for the firefighters to practice on. The public works department used backhoes to help set up the accident scenes.

On Wednesday, under the guidance of fire Capt. Jay Woron, the firefighters secured the box truck, then swarmed over the SUV, working quickly and carefully as a team.

"Watch the victim," one said, as a saw tore into metal. "You're clear if you cut," another said, making sure a mannequin's limbs were not in the path of the blade.

"We had a tractor-trailer crush a car on Route 9 [on Aug. 16, 2002]," recalled Deputy Fire Chief Robert Kronenberger. "Fortunately, that turned out successfully. This training is going to greatly assist us in those kinds of operations."

He was looking at the struts and belts that held the box truck in place, allowing the crews to concentrate on the victims without fear of being crushed themselves. The accident he referred to critically injured an East Hampton woman. When firefighters first rolled up to that Route 9 crash, they did not think the occupant of the car could have survived.

"With traffic lights on the highway, we've had some strange stuff down there," Kronenberger said.

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