GRAND CANYON, Ariz. — As the primary first responders in a remote are, members of the Tusayan Fire Department rarely know what they might find when they respond to vehicle accidents on State Route 64. The solution is to be prepared for everything.
The department recently received a grant for $14,440 from the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety to purchase equipment to help stabilize vehicles at crash scenes and reduce scene-to-hospital response time by up to 10 percent.
The equipment includes high-quality resin cribbing, which is used to wedge underneath vehicles that have rolled or been lifted to keep them steady while medical personnel remove patients from the wreckage. It’s a big upgrade from what the department was using — wooden blocks nailed together for strength and cut into wedges.
Those will do in a pinch, but the lurking danger had been an area of concern, since wood is organic and prone to break down from the inside out.
“It’s scary when you hear that cracking sound,” said Lt. Mac Mercolini. “We try to keep them cleaned off, but oil, water or blood can soak into them,” degrading them over time.
The wood is also a smooth surface and can slip even under dry conditions.
Mercolini said the new cribbing is made of high-quality compacted resin and has teeth on the surfaces ensuring that they won’t slide or shift while the vehicle is lifted. If a vehicle needs to be lifted — say a patient is trapped underneath — Mercolini said the cribbing is used to form a solid base for airbags which are inflated with a standard air tank. Responders will then wedge in other pieces or use heavy cast iron step chocks to hold the weight while the patient is removed.
Mercolini said from a safety standpoint, the new equipment is important because responders don’t have to worry about the wood failing while they’re working.
Some of the grant money is also allocated for responders to attend advanced extrication training in the coming months. The department trains regularly, practicing cutting donated vehicles onsite. But Assistant Fire Chief Ray D’Alibini said it’s important to attend the advanced sessions because as vehicle technology moves forward, some of the equipment techniques can become outdated.
“They’re making cars differently now, adding different things like boron to the steel to make cars stronger,” he said. “It can be more difficult to cut, so we need to stay up to date.”
D’Albini said the department also learned recently that the Gila River Indian Community had approved the department’s grant application for about $47,000 to purchase new cardiac monitoring equipment.
Many of the department’s annual calls are medical, and the new monitor, which records several cardiac and respiratory functions that can be sent ahead, will help receiving hospital staff prepare for the patient while still en route.