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$83K Grant Buys Rescue Jaws for Amador CDF

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By Jim Reece

A state-of-the-art piece of rescue equipment could help save lives in Amador County, thanks to an $83,852 grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection was busy training last Friday, helping about 30 Amador County-based firefighters get to know the new, battery operated, combination spreader and cutter, the Holmatro Rescue Tool.

Chris Anthony battalion chief in charge of training for CDF´s Amador-El Dorado Unit said the machine, much like the hydraulic jaws of life, can tear apart a car and help trapped victims. The dual action of the cutter also goes a step further than jaws of life. The Holmatro´s light weight – 33 pounds – and its self-containment, make it much easier and quicker to use.

The jaws of life, with its gas-powered compressor and rubber tubing system, takes about as long to set up and prepare for operation as a new Holmatro can cut a car apart, Brian Estes, unit training captain said.

“We´re going to be equipping all six of our Amador County CDF engines with full extrication equipment,” Anthony said. That will include the spreader/cutter, costing about $8,000 each, that is run on a standard sized 24-volt battery. Also, each truck will have a standard DeWalt Sawzall reciprocating saw, which operates on the same 24-volt battery. Each truck will have four batteries and a charger, plus climbing ropes and harnesses for steep, “over the edge” incidents. Each truck will also get 11-ton and 20-ton air bags that are reinforced with mylar. The rubber squares look like small door mats and are operated by compressed air and can raise 11 tons and 20 tons respectively.

The firefighters on Friday demonstrated the lift bags, stacking two under a gutted and dismantled car, then filling each with air, easily lifting the car, which was stabilized with 4-inch by 4-inch blocks.

Estes said it was the Amador-El Dorado Unit´s goal to equip all 13 of the unit´s fire engines with the extrication equipment. Friday was the second of three training sessions that will train about 100 personnel, then the equipment will be placed in the trucks.

The equipment will supplement the emergency services for CDF, which in May celebrates its 100th anniversary, Estes said, adding that the wildland agency in the last 100 years has found itself changing to meet the state´s needs. They assist in medical calls with Emergency Medical Technicians and external defibrilators, hazardous material handling and awareness and structure firefighting. Now, each will also be certified in using extrication equipment.

Teri Mizuhara, public information officer, said CDF is the only paid fire department in Amador County and it provides service for 593 square miles with a population of 37,273.

Six front line CDF engines in the county currently have no auto extrication or rescue equipment and crews must work with existing hand tools they carry on their trucks, she said. The goal is to equip the six engines with full extrication equipment by April 31.

The Amador-El Dorado Unit has stations at Dew Drop, in Pine Grove and in the Pine Grove Conservation Camp, in Sutter Hill, at River Pines, Camino, Garden Valley and Pilot Hill. The unit also contracts to serve as the Cameron Park Fire Department and the Pioneer Fire Protection District and handles all emergency dispatch in both counties.

“We don´t work independently of other agencies. We work together,” Estes said. “People get the closest service that´s available.”

He said the all-new technology of the Holmatro tool would greatly enhance rescue abilities in the area.

“This really was developed after 9/11 because of its capability to do urban search and rescue,” Estes said, noting the portability of the unit and its small size also made it ideal for off-road, steep terrain rescues.

“All these tools are used in conjunction with each other,” he said, including the Sawzall, plus sledge hammers, axes and a Hooligan tool, a three pronged prying tool.

Teams of firefighters trained with the tools and tore apart about 10 cars on Friday, starting by prying apart door hinges, then clipping the hinges off with the Holmatro. The car´s ceiling was completely removed, as were all doors, then the frames were raised and cut.

“We´ll end up destroying the better part of 40 cars,” Estes said, noting that it was nice to have salvage yards donate their old wrecks for the training. The unit has one more training session in March.

Personnel in training Friday included two volunteers from the Amador Fire Protection District Battalion 10, fire captains from the California Youth Authority´s Pine Grove camp and about 30 CDF personnel, all based in Amador County.

Reprinted with permission from The Amador Ledger-Dispatch