Firefighters open cars for automatic extraction training

WELLSTON — The training that took place on Saturday could mean the difference between life and death if you’re in a car crash in Manistee County.

Cadet firefighters took part in auto extrication training at Wellston Lube & Repair in Norman Township – one of the final steps to receiving their firefighting certificates.

Automatic extrication is the process of removing a vehicle from approximately one person who has been involved in a collision, when conventional means of exit are either not possible or not recommended.

A delicate approach is necessary to minimize the risk of injury during extraction. This process is accomplished using various rescue tools including wedges and braces for stabilization and hydraulic tools such as the Jaws of Life.

Approximately 20 cadets, representing fire departments throughout Manistee County and beyond, practiced these techniques on recovered vehicles under the direction and supervision of experienced firefighters.

This includes Norman Township Fire Chief Jack VanderBie.

The Township of Norman had nine serious collisions in 2021, five of which required extrication by firefighters. Cadets, says VanderBie, will need to be able to respond competently to situations like these when they arise.

“Obviously the first thing that comes to everyone’s mind is safety – safety of people,” VanderBie said. “Usually someone gets into a car with the patient. It’s strong. The car moves a lot. … the patient might scream … so you have to be able to handle the adrenaline.

Keeping a cool head under pressure is key, says VanderBie, but so is speed.

“You have to hurry because you have what’s called the golden hour to get the patient out of the car and into the hospital for treatment,” he told the News Advocate. “You have to be able to adapt, improvise and overcome.”

The golden hour is a term used that often refers to the hour following trauma, when responders must provide patients with the care they need before serious complications arise.

“After an hour, their chances of survival – if it’s a serious accident – drop significantly,” he said.

According to VanderBie, life-saving decisions must be made by these volunteers at all times and often in difficult circumstances.

“…you could be on your bed sound asleep, and the pager goes off at any time of the night and…we have an accident that we need to respond to,” he said. “Sometimes you don’t have all the information until you’re there, and then you need to quickly assess what’s going on and make sure everything is safe.”

The extrication training is part of a certification course run by the Manistee County Firefighters Association. The current class of cadets have been in training since before the start of 2022 and have logged about 200 hours, according to VanderBie.

When the program ends in early summer, the cadets will be government-certified volunteer firefighters — something VanderBie desperately needs in Manistee County.

“A majority of our entire region, fire departments need firefighters and medical personnel,” he said. “It’s a nationwide thing – everyone is experiencing a labor shortage, so it’s scary at times.”

Those interested in joining a future cadet class are encouraged to contact their local fire department, VanderBie said.

“They will follow through and start learning the basics of training with your department…and then enroll in the academy,” he said, adding that any cadet firefighter should “be ready for a huge commitment.”

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