Tech Rescue

The Safety Officer’s Role Requires Emotional Detachment

Issue 10 and Volume 8.

Vehicle extrication incidents involve a great deal of personal immersion and consume enormous amounts of energy. People trapped or pinned in vehicles evoke a visceral reaction in the emergency responder. In most extrications, rescuer and victim often have audible, visual and physical contact with each other. An unspoken, overwhelming urgency develops when you look into the eyes of an entangled victim who’s begging you to get them out of the car. This may actually be more pronounced when the victim is unconscious. Training and experience tell the rescuer that a victim’s life is ebbing before their eyes, and a life-or-death race is underway. Many elements converge into a cyclone of action, which can lead rescuers down a trail of mishap. Avoiding this trail requires a rescuer to operate outside of the highly charged hazard zone. Their job is to remain emotionally detached from the patient, intensely attached to the extrication team’s efforts and constantly aware of the potential for unnecessary injury.

Report Excerpt #09-409
“Units were working at a vehicle accident with one trapped. Extrication crews were working on both sides of the car to remove the roof. Units on the passenger side of the car were starting to cut the posts before looking for cylinders or sensors for the air bags …. This incident [mishap] was prevented because the safety officer stepped in and asked if they checked the side-impact air bags to see if they looked for all the placements of the sensors as well as the cylinders.”

The disentanglement of a victim, or multiple victims, from wreckage requires broad knowledge. The wide variety of vehicle manufacturers’ proprietary assemblies, power plants and modern vehicle safety features all seem to work in concert to thwart extrication specialists from removing a victim. A sound, working understanding of all of these components is the first step to a successful extrication. If you understand how the vehicle is assembled, you will have an easier time when it comes to disassembling for extrication.

Developing a working familiarity with extrication tools and procedures is a must. The composite nature of today’s vehicles requires more than just an occasional trip to the local impound lot. Getting comfortable with extrication tools requires the specialist to handle tools frequently in order to review their capacities, specifications and operating instructions.

It’s also important to develop assignment lists and baseline extrication plans for the extrication team. Two frequently overlooked positions in the extrication incident are the incident commander (IC), who oversees all aspects of the extrication (extrication, hazard control, traffic control, medical transport and safety) and the incident safety officer (ISO). But it is the ISO who maintains the emotional detachment from the patient, intense attachment to the extrication team’s operations and is constantly on alert for injury-producing actions. The individual who will be assigned to the position must also be well versed in all aspects of the extrication operation. There is no substitute for the well prepared safety officer.    
In Closing
The best incident management operations use a systems approach to saving lives and preventing loss. Those systems are most effective when they are made up of competent people who function at a high level during intense situations. These performers can only be effective when they become members of a team that’s well prepared for intense, high-risk situations. Preparation includes that responders fully understand that they are part of a system using an organized, disciplined approach to resolving an emergency. The approach combines task-level performers with a prevention system comprised of equal parts competency, knowledge and awareness of hazards. When performers are unfamiliar with their tools or techniques or lose sight of their mission, chaos reigns instead of order, and the opportunity for a mishap arises.