Disassembly can be advantageous to cutting or prying tactics, but you need to know which tools to grab
Story & Photos by Les Baker
Disentanglement tactics may necessitate disassembling parts of a vehicle. In many cases, disassembly is much more advantageous than tactics that involve cutting and prying. Disassembling a vehicle creates safer working conditions, significantly reduces the amount of shock to the vehicle and, in many situations, proves to be faster.
This vehicle was involved in a frontal collision with significant frontal damage. Even with the amount of damage, firefighters could use disassembly tools to remove the front door on the hinge side.
Most textbooks and courses do identify disassembly as a viable method of completing certain tactics, but rarely do they cover the most important tools to accomplish those tactics. And I’ve also found that when discussing the topic of disassembly during training sessions, students routinely ask, “What sockets do we really need?”
It seems that a department’s approach to disassembly tools usually falls into one of two categories:
1. They paid thousands of dollars for complete tool sets in an attempt to cover all bases. When needed, the decision as to what tool to choose is complicated by all the choices.
2. They don’t have the money to buy large tool chests and therefore only purchase those tools they think provide the most benefit.
In either case, firefighters need to be educated about the tools they have for use during vehicle disassembly tactics. And the selection of tools needs to be convenient and simple for any operation to be efficient. This will ultimately lead to more efficient operations and an increase in the number of members who consider disassembly to be a viable method on the extrication scene.
Ensure responders are trained and knowledgeable in sound disentanglement practices in those situations where disassembly is incorporated into the initial plan but cannot be completed in a timely fashion. For example, the disentanglement group supervisor determines that a seat back must be lowered to allow for a more inline removal of the patient. Due to patient positioning, the initial plan should be to remove the bolts connecting the seat back to the seat frame. If it is determined that they are unable to remove bolts and lower the seat back, responders should be able to use a hydraulic cutter, air chisel or reciprocating saw to accomplish the same task.
A tool compartment on an apparatus.
A large set of disassembly tools.
Many of the tools you’ll need for disassembly tactics: 1) impact wrench; 2) power ratchet wrench; 3) standard and metric sockets; 4) flip socket; 5) torx bit socket; and 6) additional adapters.
The tools back in the box.
The disentanglement group supervisor should anticipate the need for disassembly tools as well as equipment needed to perform alternative operations. These tools should be staged appropriately and prepared for use.
Prepare a small container with only those sockets and adapters needed for most operations. Mark the size and/or application for each socket so that it’s easily recognizable. Although it may be appropriate to maintain a large selection of tools for other situations, store duplicates of the extrication-related tools separately.
To ensure that the most force is available with fewer adapters, only use power ratchets when space does not allow for the use of an impact wrench. The impact wrench should be the first tool of choice. Advancements in battery-operated impact and ratchet wrenches make them the most convenient and realistic power source. The exception: if other power sources, such as pneumatic or electric tools, have been staged or are in service but not in use at the time.
Keep all the sockets as close to the same drive size as possible. Maintaining ½" impact sockets ensures that the sockets won’t break under the shock of an impact wrench and that most fit the preferred tool for most applications.
Although this limited amount of equipment does not cover every potential connection point on all makes and models of vehicles, it does cover a large portion of points, including trunk and hood attachment points, seat hinges, door hinges, lug nuts/bolts and more.
Impact Wrench (1):
This is a socket wrench power tool designed to deliver high torque output with minimal exertion by the user. Impact wrenches are typically ½" drive, electric, pneumatic or battery-powered, and deliver between 250 and 750 ft./lbs. of torque.
Power Ratchet Wrench (2):
A socket wrench power tool is designed to deliver lower torque, but has more speed than an impact wrench. Power ratchet wrenches are typically 3/8" drive, delivering less than 100 ft./lbs. of torque. Keep a ½" adapter connected to the tool to use the majority of the extrication-related sockets. One advantage over the impact wrench: its design allows it to operate in more compact spaces.
Standard and Metric Sockets (3):
To ensure safe and efficient operations with impact drivers, use standard and metric ½" drive impact sockets. The most common sizes are 12 mm, 13 mm, ½" and 9/16". For certain situations where access is restricted, additional shorter sockets in combination with a power ratchet wrench may be appropriate.
Flip Socket (4):
These two-way sockets are designed for the most common lug nut sizes. The most common sizes are 3/4" (19 mm) and 13/16" (21 mm) for passenger vehicles and light trucks.
Torx Bit Socket (5):
A torx is a type of screw head characterized by a 6-point, star-shaped pattern. The most common sizes are T45 and T50. These sockets are typically available with a 3/8" drive.
Additional Adapters (6):
There are three adapters that assist with getting the socket onto the bolt or nut. A 3" extension bar is maintained on the impact wrench in the absence of a long anvil. Two additional adapters to assist with tricky situations include a 6" extension bar and swivel impact adapter. The last adapter is a 3/8" drive adapter to allow the use of the torx bit sockets with the impact wrench.
There are some disadvantages to disassembly, so make sure that you have considered all factors when determining if you want to begin this tactic. For one, rust and/or damage created from the incident may make connections points harder to remove. Plus, certain pneumatic or power wrenches can create significant noise (although not significant when compared to many other extrication tools). Lastly, as mentioned, due to a variety of sizes and configurations, responders may not have the necessary sockets.
As a member of the Darlington County Extrication Team, I’ve completed tactics and analyzed parts on almost 1,000 vehicles. This unique opportunity has allowed me to develop a comprehensive knowledge of the specific sockets needed for most disassembly operations. Our team labeled and stored those sockets in a small container. When combined with a battery-operated impact wrench, disassembly is transformed into a user-friendly and effective method that often allows for safer and quicker operations.
A special thanks to Darlington Shredding Company and their continued support.
Les Baker, a 12-year veteran of the fire service, is an assistant engineer with the City of Charleston (S.C.) Fire Department and a volunteer with the Darlington County (S.C.) Fire District. He has an associate’s degree in fire science from Pikes Peak Community College. Baker is an adjunct instructor with the South Carolina Fire Academy and a member of the Darlington County Extrication Team, and he speaks and instructs throughout the country.
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