Tech Rescue

Floor Jacks on the Extrication Scene

Issue 1 and Volume 9.

Floor jacks have been in automotive industry for decades and are vital to certified and shadetree mechanics who needed to lift a vehicle. Used to lift a portion of a vehicle off the ground, floor jacks are effective, low cost and relatively easy to operate. Although floor jacks can’t be used all the time, they do provide a simple solution for many situations.

Potential Uses

Lift Operations: When considering your lift options, you’ll want to take into consideration the potential lifting points on the vehicle, how far you have to lift the vehicle and how much the vehicle weighs. In certain cases, floor jacks may present the most proficient lifting option, so first responders should consider floor jacks before turning to other, more complex lifting devices. Gerald’s Tire Service in the Charleston, S.C., area has a location on Savannah Highway that literally performs more than 100 lifts for automotive repairs per day with nothing more than floor jacks.

Vehicle Movement: There are multiple scenarios where the movement of the patient vehicle or secondary vehicles during the incident will help first responders gain access and/or create a sufficient path of egress. Depending on the vehicle damage and operating systems status, portions of the vehicles may need to be raised and moved. A floor jack allows responders to raise the vehicle and move it with one piece of equipment.

Citizen Assist: Fire departments should always represent the fire service in a positive manner. We have countless opportunities to interface with the public, not only in emergency situations but also in nonemergency situations that involve common problems that no one else can solve. Following are several situations in which having a floor jack on the apparatus is beneficial:

  • Debris in the roadway may get run over and stuck on the undercarriage of vehicles. I have personally responded to situations where objects (e.g., boards, chainsaws, scrap metal, coolers) were wedged between undercarriage components, creating vehicle damage, additional noise and, most notably, occupant concerns. A floor jack provides a quick and easy means of raising a portion of the vehicle to survey the damage and attempt to take care of the problem.
  • Flat tires are a common highway problem. They can create potential collision hazards as well as additional traffic. Oftentimes, a driver with a blowout won’t have the knowledge, ability or the equipment to complete the spare tire change. In many cases, automotive jacks are specific to particular makes and models, and cannot be interchanged without potentially damaging the vehicle or creating additional safety concerns. Further, some are complicated and not efficient. Floor jacks are the most universal lifting device.
  • Roadway incidents/accidents create traffic jams and increased driver tension on the roadways. Floor jacks can be used to help remove vehicles from a lane (or multiple lanes), speeding traffic for the citizens stuck in their cars trying to get from point A to point B. I know of several departments in Florida that carry floor jacks for the primary purpose of at least partially clearing roadways to mitigate the impact following a traffic accident.

Floor Jack Specifics

There are various types of floor jacks designed for specific situations, such as low-profile vehicles, high-profile vehicles and hard-to-reach lifting points. There are also a wide range of weight classifications. It’s unrealistic to have a floor jack that will meet every possible scenario, so select a quality unit with a reasonable lifting capacity, such as two tons. This standard jack should account for most of the situations you’ll encounter. For other situations, you can use more common lift devices.

Racing jacks will increase the proficiency of operations by providing user-friendly options for only slightly more the cost. These highly modified versions are typically made of aluminum and have larger pistons for greater lifting speed, and they often have a roller instead of the standard front wheels. They do make moving vehicles while lifted easier.

Safety Precautions

  • Examine the area around the vehicle and, in particular, the lift point. Use floor jacks when the vehicle is on a relatively flat, level surface. If the surface is not flat, consider other lifting devices.
  • Prevent the vehicle from shifting during the lifting process. Utilize wheel chocks or 4 x 4 cribbing placed on the wheels that will stay in contact with the ground. For instance, if lifting the front end, place the wheel chocks on the front tires—and vice versa. If lifting the driver’s side, place the wheel chocks on the passenger side—and vice versa. If the situation permits, set the parking brake and engage the transmission.
  • When time permits, refer to the vehicle owner’s manual for the recommended jacking points. If the situation is an emergency and/or the owner’s manual is not available, there are some fairly common lift points that can be utilized, such as the frame rails and main structural components. Because a floor jack uses a single-point lift, ensure that it is placed in a manner that lifts but does not rock.
  • If using the floor jack on a rough or soft surface (grass/dirt, rocks, thin asphalt, etc.), provide a suitable base of support with ground pounds and/or cribbing.
  • Watch for shifting of the vehicle and any damage to the vehicle points during the process. If either is detected, stop the operation and reposition or select another lifting device.
  • Just as mechanics should use approved jack stands in combination with floor jacks, responders should use cribbing during the lift in case of equipment or setup failure. Place this cribbing at typical points that are sufficient to support the load.
  • During the lifting process, do not get under the vehicle until the vehicle has been cribbed. Similar to lift bag operations, tighten the cribbing against the load and slowly lower the floor jack to place the load substantially on the cribbing.

Summary

Fire departments should strongly consider adding floor jacks to their equipment cache, especially considering their low cost and high output. Floor jacks provide a simple solution to many situations and a comfort level that will allow firefighters to operate confidently on the incident scene.