If you’ve been held up in a traffic jam due to a car accident blocking all or part of the road up ahead, there’s a possibility that emergency rescue personnel may require powered rescue tools to access crash victims before they can be retrieved and sent to the hospital.

These tools include shears (or cutters), spreaders, rams and inflatable jacks.

These devices were first used in 1963 as a tool to free race car drivers from their vehicles after crashes.

SHEARS

Shears are a type of power-tool designed to cut through metal. These are most commonly used by first responders to cut through a vehicle’s structure to gain access to and remove a trapped crash victim.

SPREADER

A spreader is a power tool (see photo above) that is designed with two arms that come together in a narrow tip. The arms can be expanded with great force. The tip can be inserted into a narrow gap between two vehicle panels (such as between two doors). Then, the spreaders are expanded to “pop” the vehicle doors from their hinges to gain access to the trapped occupants.

COMBINATION SPREADER

While a cutter or spreader tool is designed for a particular application, a combination tool is also available, which combines the cutting and spreading functions of separate tools into a single tool.

In operation, the tips of the spreader-cutter blades are wedged into a seam or gap — for example, around a vehicle door — and the device engaged. The tool pushes the blades apart with great force and spreads the seam. Once the seam has been spread, the now-open blades can be repositioned around the metal. The device is engaged in reverse and the blades close, cutting through metal. Repeating this process allows a rescuer to quickly open a gap wide enough to pull free a trapped victim.

Spreader-cutters sometimes have lower capabilities when compared to a dedicated shear or spreader (for example a smaller spreading range), but may be useful where space is at a premium on fire and rescue vehicles, or when a local budget does not allow for a separate cutter and spreader tool.

The above devices are often called the “jaws of life,” due to the shape of their blades.

RAMS

Rapidly creating openings in a wrecked vehicle with the previous tools is important. But there are times when a firefighter needs to dislodge parts, like a steering column or a dashboard. A ram is a sturdy metal rod that is pressed forward to punch or ram apart sections of an accident that may be pinning a victim down and preventing their extrication.

INFLATABLE JACK

An inflatable jack, or lifting bag, is not powered in the same way as the above devices. Instead, an airbag is inflated by compressed air in order to lift objects. The bag can be deflated and reused later.

Rescuers may use lifting bags to elevate heavy objects to help trapped victims.

These bags are strong enough to lift automobiles or even larger ones can be used to lift bigger objects, such as an airplane.

Two airbags can be stacked together to provide a higher lift. It is recommended that no more than two bags be used in a stacked configuration and that the bigger bag must be the bottom one, and no other objects are inserted between the stacked bags.

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