Floorboard tunneling/removal is a seldom used tactic. It’s typically only required when vehicle access is blocked on every side other than the bottom. When removing areas of the floorboard, the unexposed bracing often creates problems with air chisels and reciprocating saws. Recently, I was instructing floorboard tactics during a “Down in the Ditch” program—a situation where this tactic is often considered a viable and necessary option. Fortunately, we experienced considerable success with cutting the skin of the floor pan and utilizing a spreader to open and expose the bracing.
Through this small and simple change in technique, we immediately saw the impact this tactic could have on vehicles that are roof-resting and require side removals. It may be especially useful when the victim is still seat-belted in an upside-down position—a situation that requires plenty of access for a successful extrication. If the victim’s side is blocked, then the results of the tactic have even more impact. Further, center dash displacements can be completed much easier—and ergonomically. Finally, the tactic allows for a more systematic removal of part of the floor pan, the front seat, two doors and the bravo post, simultaneously.
We decided to call the technique the “Dukes Side Car” based on the local college’s mascot and the fact that everyone seems to love sitting on the removed parts in a side-car fashion.
This tactic does have some limitations, so the disentanglement supervisor should evaluate the vehicle to determine whether the tactic can be performed. As always, even if it appears that the tactic can be completed, secondary plans should be developed and communicated to personnel. With that in mind, following are some size-up considerations:
- Although this tactic is easier to complete on a four-door vehicle, it still can be accomplished with two-door vehicles. With two-door vehicles, you’ll need a small area between the back portion of the door and the rear fender well. Utilize an air chisel or reciprocating saw to remove the outer panel to basically create a second door. From that point, the cut location will be the same as it would be for a four-door vehicle.
- The tactic is quicker on a unibody vehicle due to the lack of structure. It can be completed on a full-frame vehicle, but will require additional cuts through the frame rails at the applicable points.
- The seat opposite of the victim (the side on which this tactic is warranted) must be a bucket style. If the seat is a divided bench seat, the side to be removed must be the smaller side—the side without the center console attached.
Step by Step
Here’s how to complete the tactic:
The basics: Initially treat the incident as you would any other vehicle collision. Take the necessary steps to establish incident command, survey the scene carefully, call applicable resources, control hazards and stabilize the vehicle in its current position. Always communicate with the medic, and provide hard/soft protection as necessary. When working on the undercarriage, ensure solid footing and avoid hot vehicle components.
The hinge side of the front door must be separated from the vehicle by severing or disassembling the hinges. The locking mechanism of the rear door must be separated from the vehicle by utilizing the door handle or severing the mechanism. The windows in these two doors are the only glass that’s affected during the completion of this tactic, and should be managed appropriately. In certain cases where the door does not require significant forcing, it may be more advantageous to leave the window in place. It should also be noted that the tactic will still work even if one or both of the doors are removed initially for access to the interior and/or rapidly extricating the patient. Next, follow these steps:
- Make two cuts into the rocker panel, one forward of the front seat close to the dash area, and the second rearward of the front seat but just forward of the rear-seat hump. These cuts could be made with a reciprocating saw, but it’s easier to make the large structural cuts with a hydraulic cutter. It’s typically easier to work on the undercarriage of the vehicle while using a reciprocating saw or air chisel to cut through the floorboard from those initial cuts to the edge of the hump.
- Connect those two cuts to form a square shape by cutting along the edge of the hump, avoiding the seat brackets. Using the edge of the hump helps ensure that the cut is beyond the seat brackets. It’s important to cut just deep enough to sever the floorboard to avoid the lateral brace, seat brackets, etc.
- Utilize a spreader to pry the floorboard away from the hump area and expose the lateral bracing. Now that it’s accessible and visible, sever the lateral bracing with the most appropriate tool, a hydraulic cutter being the optimum choice. Although not always necessary, it’s a good practice to leave the spreader in place during this step to continue the spreading motion once the lateral brace has been cut. This will help move the components in the intended direction and rip any areas that were not completely cut through. In several cases, the spreading motion had the ability to rip the lateral brace, but there was some jarring reaction in the vehicle. Not severing the Bravo post first allows the metal to move in a predetermined path, and it also makes it easier to move the metal to the ground.
- Once the floor pan, seat, doors and Bravo post have been folded down to the ground, complete the removal process by severing the Bravo post at the roofline. Lastly, harden the egress by moving the components out of the hot zone and covering the resulting sharp edges as applicable.
- Depending on the situation, this may be the only tactic needed for a sufficient path of egress and/or assisting with the removal of the patient. If the vehicle encountered a frontal collision or resulting damage to the dash that trapped the patient, a center dash displacement may be warranted. It’s important to remember that a center dash displacement requires either a blind push point at the ram ends or the time-consuming work of removing console and dash components. Just like cutting through areas that have not been exposed, ramming into areas that have not been exposed can create hazards. The time consideration for removing vehicle components to create center push points may exceed the needs of the patient. Also there are several variables—including the location of the lateral reinforcement, the ability to create a substantial push point, and the lack of training on this technique—that would make this tactic a last resort. It is much easier with the ability to stand in position and operate a spreader or ram than working in a supine position trying to also hold the hydraulic tool in place.
Although this tactic has some limitations based on vehicle position, disentanglement needs and construction features, the Dukes Side Car is a valuable option that makes a lot of space in a short amount of time. The tactic is another example of responders developing methods that solve problems and make the best use of tools available.