Members of the Ashcroft Volunteer Fire Department work on dismantling a vehicle during a training exercise. Photo: Barbara Roden

Ashcroft Fire Department members learn new skills during extrication exercise

Today’s vehicles pose more challenges and hazards for firefighters trying to extricate victims

Anyone driving past the Ashcroft Public Works Yard on the weekend of Sept. 7 might have noticed a group of people enthusiastically destroying several vehicles. It was not vandals; rather, it was an extrication training exercise for members of the Ashcroft Volunteer Fire Department, who were practicing their skills on a variety of vehicles that had been donated for the event.

Ten firefighters — many of them new members of the department — received two days of extrication training from Scott Venables and Dean Austinson of Provincial Fire and Safety. The two men are members of Kamloops Fire Rescue and have extensive training and experience in extrication, and they use these skills to train members of other fire departments, both paid and volunteer.

White said the session came about through Neil Campbell of Provincial Fire and Safety. He is also the chief training officer for Kamloops Fire Rescue, and when he heard from White that there were several new AVFD members who needed auto extrication training he replied that his firm offered that training, and a date was set.

The weekend started with a three-hour classroom session which featured a PowerPoint presentation. Participants learned about a variety of topics, including the anatomy of vehicles, firewalls, and an electrical safety component that looked at the challenges posed by electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrids.

White says that while the department has not yet had to deal with extrication from an EV, he’s sure that day is coming. He adds that EVs and hybrids are very different to other vehicles when it comes to extrication.

“The basic design is the same, but you have to know how to find the electrical safety disconnects and how to disable them. We were shown a video on what happens when you cut through the wiring of an EV. It takes tools out of service and is a potential hazard to firefighters.

“One of the interesting points we learned was that cooling an EV fire uses up to 3,500 gallons of water, and our fleet [two fire engines and a tender] holds 4,000 gallons, so it takes a lot more water to put out an EV fire than with a regular vehicle.”

Ten days prior to the event White put out a call for unwanted cars for firefighters to practice on, and he says that 13 vehicles were donated from all around the area. “We had them from Walhachin, Marble Canyon, Ashcroft Terminal, Koppers, the Halfway trailer park, Cache Creek: every direction.”

Steve’s Towing in Clinton volunteered to get all the vehicles and bring them to Ashcroft, then take them away after the event, and Andy Anderson from Ashcroft Home Hardware picked up two of them. “It was all at no cost, which was a fantastic donation for us.

“It was a great mix of vehicles: cars, trucks, and minivans, all the types of vehicles we encounter. Heartfelt thanks to everyone; having those vehicles donated helped increase our reaction time and speed. Without those people our weekend wouldn’t have happened.”

Out in the field, firefighters used a variety of tools and techniques to break windows, remove doors and roofs, and work with batteries, airbags, cylinders with compressed gases that can potentially explode and injure people, and more.

“We ‘softened up’ the vehicles by breaking glass, removing hoods, cutting battery cables, lifting up plastic,” says White. “We were looking for the dangers so that when we do an extrication we’re working with steel on steel, not steel on rubber or plastic, where tools can slip and kick out while you’re cutting and spreading.”

Venables says that he and Austinson took it upon themselves to develop the extrication training course because of a lack of standardized training in the subject.

“We get everyone up to a set standard, and then let them build on those skills. You really have to work on those foundational skills. And it’s not like in the old days; vehicle extrication now presents a wide range of challenges to rescuers.”

Austinson explains that while they bring some extrication equipment, it’s to give more people a chance to gets hands-on experience. “We get you up to the standard of what equipment you have on your truck.” He adds that he was glad to see so many new firefighters taking part.”

White has had extrication training in the past, but he too acknowledges the fact that a lot has changed since he joined the fire service 20 years ago. “There are a lot more hazards now, so it was a good refresher for some of us.”

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Breaking windows on a vehicle during the extrication exercise. Photo: Barbara Roden

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