Posted July 25, 2004     Photos by Fritz Rethage
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HHFD Heavy Rescue
"Jaws of Life"

During emergencies, when a few wasted seconds can cost lives, the "Jaws of Life" are brought in to   pry open accident vehicles and allow rescue workers to remove trapped victims from the wreckage.  We often read about rescues that used the "Jaws of Life". What is it?  How does it work?

"Jaws of Life" is not "a" tool --  but refers to several types of piston-rod hydraulic tools known as cutters, spreaders and rams, which are used by trained rescuers working as a team.

The spreader is used to pull pieces of the structure apart, or it can be inserted into the side of the vehicle to tear a section out. The cutter is used to cut through the vehicle like a pair of giant bolt cutters. Some "Jaws of Life" equipment combine the cutter and spreader into one machine.

The ram's function is to push apart sections of the car (or other structure). For instance, a rescue worker can place a ram on the door frame and extend the piston to push the dashboard up, creating enough space to free a crash victim.

A typical "Jaws of Life" machine uses about 1 quart of hydraulic fluid. A portable engine pumps pressurized hydraulic fluid into the piston cylinder through one of two hose ports.  An operator switch controls which port the fluid enters through. If it enters one port, the fluid forces the rod up and opens the arms of the spreader or blades of the cutter. The operator can then toggle the switch and cause the rod to retract, closing the arms or blades

The "Jaws of Life" is actually a brand of tools that is trademarked by the Hurst Jaws of Life company, but the name is often used when talking about other brands of rescue systems.

"Jaws of Life" Department Training

Under a blazing hot (85 degrees) Sunday afternoon, July 11, 2004, the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department conducted "Jaws of Life" training at the DPW yard near the airport.  Two donated vehicles were used in the exercise that practiced the basic techniques that are regularly used by the department.

The hands-on exercise began with an overview of the equipment. The crushed blue car was stabilized, each door was removed, glass was removed, the roof was removed, the car's frame was broken and spread and the hood was opened.  The yellow truck with a "brave volunteer victim" inside, had the doors removed, glass removed, roof removed and the victim removed and readied for transport.

Training emphasized the safety and treatment of victims during rescue operations. Also discussed were the hazards of: un-deployed air bags, seat belts, hybrid electric cars, etc.  The immediate solutions for ruptured gas tanks was to apply absorbent material for small spills, and apply a layer of foam for larger spills.  Senior department members were able to share with the newer members, many practical rescue techniques and tips that they had learned from their experiences.

Transportation and disposition of the vehicles was donated by Lenox Towing.  The HHFD welcomes tax deductible vehicle donations for future exercises.
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HHFD rescuing 12 year old trapped under car Dec. 13, 2000
  [Photos]
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"Jaws of Life" training held on July 11, 2004
1. Story and equipment
2. Blue car: Removing front doors
3. Blue car: Removing rear doors
4. Blue car: Removing glass, roof, breaking frame & opening hood
5. Yellow truck: Removing doors
6. Yellow truck: Removing glass and roof
7. Yellow truck: Extracting victim

Mpeg movies included:  Blue car [Rear door]   [Cutting hood open]
Yellow truck [Door] [Cutting windshield #1]  [Cutting windshield #2]


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