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Mastering the Jaws of Life

By Dave Ingram

When people are trapped inside their cars after a crash, it’s our local firefighters who get them out and provide medical care, a process called “vehicle extrication.” The Eastern Shore vehicle extrication team, all volunteer firefighters from the firehalls in Musquodoboit Harbour, Oyster Pond and Ostrea Lake, recently won an award during a province-wide competition in Windsor, NS, qualifying them for a place in the North American Championships next year in Enfield.

I sat down with Jami Smith, an experienced female firefighter, and Brennan Handy, a veteran of several training courses, to learn more about how these competitions work.

How is the competition run?

Jami: “Previously wrecked vehicles are placed in position for each simulated scenario. An entrapped person, or persons are placed in the vehicle to simulate medical emergencies. The teams are not shown what the scenario is until they are “arriving” on the scene. The teams are given a maximum of 20 minutes to safely remove the person(s) from the vehicle while providing medical attention and ensuring the safety of the firefighters involved as well. They are judged on all these factors during the operation.”

How many members are on the team, and what do they do?

Brennan: “There are 6 members on each team. An officer in charge, a primary and secondary medic, and one firefighter each for cutting the vehicle, spreading apart the metal, and using hand tools. My role was to assess the scene for hazards, help to stabilize the vehicle, operate the hand tools, and remove glass from the vehicle.”

I understand your team came in 3rd in “limited pit” and 7th in “unlimited pit.” What’s the difference between limited and unlimited pit?

Brennan: “Limited pit is the use of hand tools only, such as reciprocal saws, air chisels, crow bars, jacks and lifts. Unlimited pit is using the ‘Jaws of Life’ that has cutters, spreaders, and rams to assist, and any other necessary tools. We try to practice in situations where the hydraulic tools may not be available or are not working.”

What was your role on the team?

Jami: “I was the secondary medic. All the team members help to stabilize and make sure the vehicle can’t move while we are operating, Then the medics attend to the injured while the rest of the members do their work. I also was assigned to help with the tools when I was needed.”

I assume that good communication is important?

Brennan: “Yes. The incident commander forms a plan while the vehicle is being stabilized, and then must communicate that to the team members as soon as possible. The medics ensure they stay in contact with the patients to assess their medical needs and also to keep them informed about what is happening and reassure them.”

What are the benefits of competing?

Jami: “We have the opportunity to practice for months in advance, and then watch other teams performing their scenarios. It is a huge learning benefit for us in reacting to actual situations we may encounter in traffic accidents.”
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Interested in becoming a volunteer? Please come to station 24, Riverside Drive, Musquodoboit Harbour, or Station 26, Oyster Pond any Tuesday evening at 7:00 P.M. or call 902-490-5611. Volunteer firefighters assist career firefighters during the weekdays and staff your fire stations nights and weekends.

Dave Ingram is a volunteer firefighter in Musquodoboit Harbour.

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11 E Petpeswick Rd, Musquodoboit Harbour, NS B0J 2L0

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