On a signal from the competition's coordinators, Central Emergency Services' team of four men and two women emerged from their seclusion tent and made their way to the scene of the accident.
A Dodge Aries lay wheels in the air with a mangled front end. Inside the victim waited to be rescued.
From their seclusion tent, before they were released, the team could hear the crane positioning the car. The crunch of folding metal and cracking glass was clearly audible. But, what they didn't know was exactly what methods they were going to have to use to extricate the mannequin in the 20 minutes allotted them.
Simulating real-life vehicle extrication is the basic premise behind the International Associa-tion Fire Chief's Transportation Emergency Response Committee's extrication competitions held around the country throughout the year. This one, a first for the state of Alaska, was held July 20 in Wasilla.
As the CES team walked toward the site, the five members and their captain assessed the situation. Once they crossed the line and the clock started, seconds and minutes would tick away the victim's imaginary survival chances and the team's chance to win first place in this portion of the competition.
After deciding to use a clamshell method -- where the team cuts the back of the car so it can be opened up like a mouth, or a clam -- to extricate the mannequin, they cribbed-up, or stabilized, the back of the car to help ensure that the victim would sustain no further injuries.
"Just the process of cutting up the vehicle causes it to rock on its suspension. That alone can make (the victim) paralyzed," said team member Lynn Baker, an EMT and firefighter volunteer with CES.
However, the team soon realized the clamshell was not the solution to this particular extrication.
"Once we started, we found it wasn't working," he said.
So, the team switched tactics and ended up getting the victim out with a third-door conversion technique.
Their quick actions and flexibility earned the team a second-place trophy for the "unlimited" division, which allowed participants to use heavy machinery like hydraulics. They also won second in the "limited" division, which allowed battery operated and hand tools, and the team took an overall second in the entire competition, bringing home a total of three trophies to adorn station one in Soldotna.
"For me, I went in thinking it would be a learning experience for next time," Baker said, adding that his expectations were exceeded. "It was a blast. It's a lot of fun. I'd do it again."
CES plans to do it again, too.
"Our chief wants to host it next year," Baker said of Chief Jeff Tucker. "(Education's) actually the real idea. It's not so much of a real competition but a learning experience."
In addition to a symposium, featuring extrication techniques and information, held the day before the competition, judges also offered advice after each team completed their scenario.
Although watching others and getting after-the-fact pointers were both beneficial, the simulated accidents helped competitors.
No detail was ignored. Teams went through the motions as if the scene was a real accident.
Team members circled the totaled car, looking for other victims and assessing the situation. Although they knew there would be no one else, everything had to be played exactly as it would in the field.
The same went for their time limit. In a true accident, there is a window of time -- called the golden hour -- that the team of rescue workers has to get the victim out of of the vehicle and to the hospital.
"The less time you take to get them out of there the better, but you have to do it in a safe manner," Baker said.
That is where stabilizing the vehicle comes into play. Team members also had to establish a rapport with the victim, even though the dummy was not really in need of any soothing.
In both the unlimited and limited competitions, CES and three other teams had to focus on several issues at once, without cutting any corners.
Still, they knew lives weren't on the line, so the competition could still be about fun and testing a team's knowledge.
"It's always a blast cutting up cars -- using hydraulics," Baker said. "Out there in real call, in life, granted you have a lot more stress in my book, a lot more pressure."
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