Cal Fire adds life-saving tools in Merced

Two crews of California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection firefighters trained Wednesday with recently purchased life-saving hydraulic equipment.

With a $100,000 grant from the state Office of Traffic Safety, Merced County Cal Fire added fresh equipment used to pry and force open damaged cars that have pinned occupants inside. The new addition includes five power units, five telescoping rams, a combination tool, a cutting tool and 30 hoses.

“If there’s more equipment out there, it can reduce the amount of time it takes to get a person out of the vehicle and get them to the hospital faster,” Capt. John Slate said.

Firefighters call the first hour after an accident the “Golden Hour.” The sooner a person can be transported to the hospital in that hour, the better chance that person will have to live, Slate said.

Another upgrade that makes a big difference, he said, are quick-link hose attachments. The crew can change the tools quickly with a couple of twists, as opposed to the older equipment, some of which had been in use for more than 30 years.

The combination tool can be used to cut through a door or the roof of a vehicle with 120,000 pounds of force, as well as to spread metal apart from a center point. Rams have a telescopic arm that exerts 29,900 pounds, and are commonly used to push a dashboard off the legs of a pinned victim.

Merced County Cal Fire responds to an average of about 1,300 collisions a year. Many of those are along Highways 99, 140 and 152, as well as Interstate 5, so the accidents can happen at high speeds and result in mangled cars.

As part of the grant’s requirements, 200 firefighters will train with the equipment and the department is expected to improve extrication times, display the equipment in public and decrease the time it takes for the equipment to reach the scene of a crash.

On Wednesday, crews practiced with the new equipment inside Bill’s Towing & Storage yard in Merced.

Merced County Fire Chief Nancy Koerperich said Merced County Cal Fire crews are made up of one or two firefighters, who are backed up by volunteers. She said the size of the crews makes the new equipment more important.

“Any tools that we can get that help us do our job more efficiently and quickly are tools we are always looking to improve upon,” she said. “(Office of Traffic Safety) was great in helping us upgrade.”