Firefighters do not take part only in fire suppression activities. On the contrary, they deal with lots of different emergency scenarios. An essential part of their activities consists of rescue operations. In those situations, they usually require extracting someone from a car crash. That is when several specialized tools come to the rescue, and one of the most famous is the Jaws of Life.
What are extrication tools?
Rescue personnel employs these tools to remove a person from a severely damaged vehicle. However, sometimes the extrication, or removal, is not a simple task. For example, extracting someone from a car accident may be delicate and time-consuming.
That is where an entire range of specialty tools help during a rescue operation. They include cutters, spreaders, rams, stabilizers, kits, and other equipment.
These rescue tools can cut through most car metals in seconds. In addition, they are far more efficient than the circular saws from the past.
A spreader is a tool that you set between two metal tubes. Using hydraulic force will spread or push them apart without cutting the metal.
When there is a significant obstruction, like a closed door in a department, that is when a ram comes in. It allows concentrating brute force on a particular focus point, allowing the user to break the barrier in front of him.
A stabilizer will create a safe space for the victim and rescue personnel by not allowing the crashed car to fall to either side.
What are the Jaws of Life?
This device is a hydraulic extrication-type rescue tool. It combines a spreader, a ram, and a cutter in a single device. Because of its versatility, it became one of the most used tools in the rescue’s team arsenal.
Using the tool, rescue personnel can help passengers or drivers out of the wreckage. In addition, it takes less effort and time than other devices require.
Who invented the Jaws of Life?
George Hurst was the inventor in 1961. It turns out Hurst was neither a firefighter nor related to emergency services personnel. His company was the Hurst Performance Product Co., and they were in charge of making sports cars run faster.
As history goes, Hurst was in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1961. Unfortunately, there was an accident, and he saw rescue personnel take close to an hour to remove a race car driver from his vehicle.
Not only was the rescue effort lengthy, but it was a high risk for both the driver and rescue teams.
At the time, firefighters used saws to cut open the cars’ metal frames, generating sparks. Unfortunately, these sparks increase the risk of an explosion or fire. Furthermore, the noise was so loud that it stressed the victim.
His invention received the nickname, and Hurst’s company used a trademark to sell this and other life-saving products. It was initially known as the Hurst Power Tool, but now it’s called the Hurst Jaws of Life.
George Hurst partnered with Mike Brick and improved their design for over a decade. As a result, they successfully reduced the original 350-pound model to the current weight of 65 pounds.
How do the Jaws of Life work?
This hydraulic tool uses a system based on pistons. A power source, from gasoline or electrical, makes the motor push hydraulic fluid into a piston, which drives another piston. This simple hydraulic machinery allows multiplying the applied pressure quickly.
The front part, or the jaw, works as a spreader, creating space to extract a person from the wreckage. If insufficient space or metal is in between, the cutter allows removing the obstruction.
Hurst’s invention has a phosphate-ester fluid to make it safer during a rescue operation. In addition, this liquid is both non-conductive and fire resistant. Therefore, any spills from it will not contribute to worsening an already delicate situation.
Depending on the situation, these tools are known to extract someone from a crash in less than 3 minutes.
Why are the Jaws of Life famous?
Apart from its life-saving properties, a particular incident propelled its name worldwide.
In 2021, legendary PGA golfer Tiger Woods got injured in a car accident. At the time, several news channels worldwide reported that firefighters used a tool called the Jaws of Life to save him. So naturally, this news sparked public interest in it.
A few days later, the Los Angeles County Fire Chief had to clarify that they did not use that tool as was reported initially. Instead, firefighters used other rescue tools, including a Halligan tool, to save him.
PPE for Extrication
When performing an extraction, a firefighter needs mobility and agility to react to a potentially changing environment. They don’t need their standard heavy fire gear because they don’t require protection from fire.
Therefore, they need the proper PPE suits, including extrication gloves. These gloves protect the wearer from accidental cuts from glass and metal. However, they must allow for good tactile feedback in case they are in a low vision situation.
An example will be if there’s low light, smoke, rain, or direct line of sight obstacles.
A good PPE suit must have:
- Built from lightweight materials that boast agility.
- Have many reflective areas to protect the wearer from oncoming traffic at night.
- A certain degree of fire resistance.
- Padded or reinforced knees and elbows, in case there’s some crawling in or around the rescue scene.
Why the term Jaws of Life?
It’s a play of words on being the one that snatches the victim from the Jaws of Death.
These are tools rescue personnel use to conduct rescue operations on wrecked vehicles. Using the driver’s line of sight, they can create a secure grasp and pull space. This space avoids damaging his body and allows extracting him quickly into safety.
Their portable and safe design avoid the risk of damaging the passenger or the surrounding area.
It’s impossible to determine the number of lives this single tool has saved worldwide. As a result, it is an invaluable tool in every rescue team’s arsenal.