Train with the Towers: Download the Tow Company Visit Worksheet to track your extrication training needs

Story & Photos by Les Baker

Tow Company Visit Worksheet-2.pdf

Welcome to In-Depth Extrication! This column will cover very specific extrication-related topics that allow for an “in-depth” analysis. Each month, I plan to completely deconstruct a topic, and then reconstruct it in a manner that’s easy to follow and provides as many details as possible. In an effort to provide the most comprehensive examination, my articles will rely scientific data, best practices and my years of personal experience in extrication. If you have a topic you’d like me to cover, e-mail me at”.

The modern fire service is consumed with requirements related to dictated training, public education events, emergency response and a whole host of other activities that can quickly fill out any available time during a shift. It can therefore be extremely difficult to find opportunities to train on vehicle extrication. Plus, even when time is available, many departments have become restricted by the lack of vehicles available for training (due to the public interest in scrap metal and/or the cost of transporting training vehicles). Because our training opportunities are few and far between, we must ensure that the training we conduct is highly intensive and replicates real-world conditions as much as possible.

Company officers must be creative with extrication-related training during duty shifts and/or training meetings. With this in mind, this article offers a detailed process for a training session, using several basic learning principles from the Fire and Emergency Services Instructor Manual as a foundation:
• The more often knowledge is used, the better it is retained and the quicker it becomes automatic.
• There is scientific proof that between 75 and 83 percent of what people learn is acquired through what they see.
• Individuals retain about 10 percent of what they read, 20 percent of what they hear, 30 percent of what they see, 50 percent of what they see and hear together, 70 percent of what they say or repeat, and 90 percent of what they voice while doing what they are discussing.
• Explanations, discussions and activities that are vivid and job-relevant help learners see relationships and links.

Visiting the local towing company and surveying wrecked vehicles provides a great training opportunity.

This Toyota Camry was involved in a frontal collision that resulted in airbag deployment and jammed driver’s side doors.

Personnel systematically gathered as much information as possible about the vehicle, and approached the scenario as if it were a real incident.

Adhere to all of the towing company’s safety practices. In addition, ensure personnel maintain an appropriate level of PPE, including extrication or utility gloves.

During one visit, there were several other training opportunities with vehicles that appeared to be simple extrications, but at second glance presented some unique challenges related to patient compartment intrusion.

Reach Out to Your Local Tow Company
Visiting the local towing company and surveying wrecked vehicles provides a great training opportunity. Most departments have several companies in their immediate area—companies that tow vehicles every day from the scenes of motor vehicle collisions. These vehicles, which usually remain in the yard for approximately 3 or 4 days, have undergone damage patterns similar to what rescuers deal with on a regular basis.

Training sessions at a tow company can be conducted virtually cost-free and with little preparation other than some initial contact with the owner or manager of the business several days in advance. In fact, if a positive relationship is created, the company may offer an open invitation to the department. That way, if you’re driving by and notice a new vehicle in the storage facility/yard, you can drop in for some impromptu training. The owners are usually very accommodating.

Get Started
These training sessions provide personnel the chance to completely “what if?” various extrication scenarios. They can provide countless hours of training, and they’re only limited by the number of vehicles available at the yard and the imagination of the personnel.

Although the company officer should ensure that these sessions are conducted appropriately, they can allow different personnel to lead the training.

To carry the training to the next level, use a simple, lightweight dummy to represent a patient. Dummies can be quickly and easily moved into different positions and from vehicle to vehicle. Also, dummies provide an opportunity to better visualize primary and secondary entrapment.

Some departments may have access to manuals or programs (i.e., Emergency Response Guides, Rescuer’s Guide Books, Crash Recovery System) that identify various vehicle features. Make this information available to personnel prior to the training session so they’re familiar with the location of components, especially those components that relate to specific tactics.

The Toyota Camry pictured was involved in a frontal collision that resulted in airbag deployment and jammed driver’s side doors. The dummy was placed in the driver’s seat with the left arm between the seat and Bravo Post to simulate primary and secondary entrapment.

Personnel systematically gathered as much information as possible about the vehicle, and approached the scenario as if it were a real incident. Use the attached Tow Company Visit Worksheet-2.pdf, which covers many of the points you’ll need to consider during an extrication incident. (Note: It should not be considered all-inclusive and may be adapted to local procedures.)

Adhere to all of the towing company’s safety practices, including those related to hearing, eye or head protection. In addition, ensure personnel maintain an appropriate level of personal protective equipment (PPE), including extrication or utility gloves. If body fluids are present, the best course of action is to stay away from the contaminated areas and avoid exposure concerns. Also, remember to establish a safe working distance from any vehicle hazards, such as sharp edges, airbag locations, potential loaded bumpers, etc.

Final Thoughts
Traditionally, when extrication-related training is conducted, it is done so on vehicles that have little physical damage. Even though heavy machinery may be used to replicate damage, there’s only so much realism in this. With this in mind, Dwight Clark coined the phrase, “Junk in the junkyard ain’t what’s wrecked on the highway.”

On the other hand, tow company storage yard vehicles have been involved in an actual collision, allowing personnel to set up a scenario similar to what you may actually face. Other types of businesses, such as junkyards and body repair shops, may offer similar options. In these cases, the junk is what’s wrecked on the highway.

Note: A special thanks to Turky’s Towing.

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, a member of the Darlington County Extrication Team and a co-contributor to

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Comment by lutan1 on September 20, 2010 at 8:51am
I think one of the major shortfalls in extrication training for many departments is that the focus is often on moving metal with the powered tools.

There's so much more to extrication than moving metal, such as scene appraoch, vehicle stabilisation, patient care, scene support functions, etc.

To go a step further, there's more to extricaiton than just the powered tools- many have lost site of hand tools, air tools, porta-power, etc.

Simply turning up and cutting up a car is not enough....

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