Tragedy in the Blink of an Eye
A driver races down the 405 on their way to work, weaving from lane to lane in the hopes of saving even a few seconds of travel time. Traffic is…the usual. Which is to say, bumper to bumper. Their head is pounding, the radio is blaring, and their phone keeps buzzing with the boss asking, “Are you close? We need you here!” It’s no wonder they're distracted. They don’t even notice the tractor trailer until it is too late.
They crash into the trailer with a sickening crunch of metal on metal. The next few seconds are a blur of screeching tires, melted plastic, and a rush of heat. Their head lands in a pillow-soft cushion as the rest of the chaos fades away. Horns blare, muffled through the fog of shock and injury. As the driver tries to move, they realize they're pinned in place by the dashboard. Several tons of wrecked vehicle lock them in place. How can they escape?
Fortunately, this is what Los Angeles firefighters train for.
When Seconds Matter
Apparatus Operator (AO) Brian LaBrie stands at the front of a crowd of veteran firefighters. Behind him is a family sedan buried underneath the wreckage of tractor trailer. The vehicle–a donation from Subaru to support departmental training–is wedged deep underneath the wreckage preventing rescue of the passengers. It’s a situation that is all too common in a bustling city like Los Angeles.
Brian walks the assembled firefighters through the scenario, describing the accident and the dangers now in play. With a collision this severe, there are a number of immediate medical concerns for the drivers and passengers. In addition to the normal bruises, lacerations, breaks, and concussions, firefighters need to discern if they’re entering a chemically hazardous environment.
In these instances, seconds matter. Firefighters and paramedics are trained to quickly assess, extract, and transport the injured in order to maximize the benefits of life-saving aid. The first sixty minutes following an accident are often referred to as the Golden Hour, where speed saves lives. That means first responders need to know how to quickly, and safely, handle major wreckages.
A Hands On Approach to Rescue
The Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) possesses a powerful tool in support of urban search and rescue operations: Heavy Rescue 3 (HR 3). This massive Peterbilt Heavy Wrecker brings unmatched towing and lifting capabilities, with a 50-ton crane arm and 360 degrees of flexibility. Once on scene, HR 3 can lock onto a vehicle and lift it into position in just a few minutes. But there is only one HR 3 in the city, and accidents happen all across the Los Angeles area. That’s why these trainings are so important.
At Fire Station 88, AO LaBrie worked with these veteran firefighters to practice vehicle extractions using only the tools available on the average engine. Without the power of the heavy crane, they had to slowly raise wrecked vehicles an inch at a time, stacking these multi-ton vehicles atop piles of angled wooden blocks.
“If we’re in the area, HR 3 can respond and help remove any obstruction.” AO LaBrie has thirty years of experience with the LAFD and is a primary leader and trainer for the Heavy Rescue team. “But we get stuck in traffic too, so these firefighters need to know how to operate without us. When seconds matter, you can’t wait for the 405 to clear.”
Help your local firefighters
Approximately 97% of the city’s budget for LAFD goes towards personnel costs, leaving just 3% to cover the cost of essential equipment, new technology, and training programs. The disparity creates funding shortfalls for equipment needed for everyday incidents, to resources for specialty units (like the Urban Search & Rescue and Air Operations units). Your donations can help make a real difference for the women and men of the LAFD.