How to Evaluate Heavy Rescue Tool Systems

By Ron Shaw  

Also read 'Considerations for Purchasing Heavy Rescue Tools'

Whenever you compare rescue tools, it is important to do so under the same conditions, utilizing the same vehicle parts or similar type vehicles/parts. Or, as my generation would say, compare "apples to apples."

When your committee has narrowed down its selection to two tool manufacturers, choose prop vehicles that will not allow any tool an advantage over the other due to deformity or corrosion. Evaluators mark cut locations in advance, and techniques and tool positions are mirrored exactly to ensure consistency.

Your committee should make an evaluation check sheet list of materials that need to be tested with the tools for compatibility.

If your evaluators are going to cut a pillar as one of the evaluations for comparison with a similar tool, each tool should cut at the same location on the same or similar vehicle, or use similar dimensional material.

As a guide, the following are recommended points to be incorporated in your agency's evaluation check sheet:

  • Date and evaluators
  • Tool manufacturer
  • Type tool (combi-tool, dedicated cutter/spreader, or ram)
  • Type power unit
    o Make, and model engine/motor rating
    o Fuel/power supply
  • Type hydraulic fluid
  • Type couplers 
  •  Type hose lines 
  •  Low/high pressure system
  • Maximum cutting force 
  •  Maximum cutter opening
  •  Maximum spreading force
  •  Maximum spread opening
  • Maximum pulling force
  •  Operational weight of the rescue tool
  • Dimensions (length, width and height) 
  •  Maximum length extended (ram)
  • Maximum length extended with attachment (ram) 
  • Specific materials to cut
    o Car pillars (A, B and Rear), diameter, and noting make model and year
    o Solid steel bar
    o Boron steel (make and model vehicle)
    o Roof rails
  • Recorded times
    o Time to setup system
    o Total time to make a full cut
    o Time to displace/remove a door
     Displace pin side
     Displace hinge side
     Total door removal (pin & hinge)
  • Operational times
     Battery pack (usable tool time)
     Battery recharge time
     IC engine run time on a tank of fuel 
  •  Pass/Fail

When considering the length of hose line, the most common length would be 30', which is a standard length. If you are choosing mounted reels with 100' lines, ask your sales representative to allow you to test a particular system with a 100' line as well as a 30' section to see if there is a difference in performance between the two.

If your evaluators feel a specific tool has not met your needs or the standards you have established, then they can mark it as fail. However, they should provide a reasoning to bring back to the other committee members. Departments may have different specifications than those implied by a manufacuturer. Your documentation will be beneficial when addressing issues with the manufacturer.

It is important that there is consistency between evaluations. I suggest having a minimum of two sets of evaluations for the same tool. Keep the same evaluation teams throughout the entire tool selecting process, and alternate the tool system for the second set with your evaluation teams. This will offer you a non-biased evaluation averaging out times and weighing out comments from your evaluators during the elimination process.

Not all vendors resort to bait and switch, but it does happen. It is important to specify in your bid tender that you want brand name components, such as hydraulic lines. If not, a vender may substitute a generic hose line for tool brand you are purchasing. This would be a significant saving to the vendor, especially if pricing out at a brand name list price for your hose lines. 

Ron Shaw was a career fire service lieutenant with more than 29 years of service, and is the founder and lead instructor for The organization is dedicated to the specialty field of motor vehicle extrication, providing emergency responders with the latest training and safety information necessary to safely mitigate a motor vehicle rescue. It has taught vehicle extrication at the basic, intermediate and advanced training skills to emergency responders from four continents and in the United States coast to coast and border to border. For more details, email

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