Extrication tools are a must for every fire department. There is a wide variety of tools out there and a lot of options to power those tools. Each system has advantages and disadvantages, what you choose depends on your departments strengths and weaknesses.
My two favorite extrication tools are the old time porta power and the hand powered hack saw. That might show my age a little bit, and maybe its because those are the first tools I learned to use but they really are effective. Probably the main reason I like them is that they are very simple. All of the modern extrication tools require a power supply that requires maintenance and on the scene there is extra setup time. I’m not going to grab them for a big operation that will involve removing doors or lifting a semi-trailer.
Probably the most common power for extrication tools is a gasoline powered hydraulic pump. These units bring a great deal of hydraulic force to the scene and one unit can power several tools. If you are using gasoline powered tools you need to carry extra fuel and any gasoline powered tool these require maintenance. Carrying fuel cans on a fire apparatus can be a little troublesome. That gas in those cans will need to be rotated so it doesn’t become stale. When gasoline is allowed to get warm in these cans it will lose some of its volatility, become more likely to form gums, and it will also lose some of its octane rating. Whether that fuel is in the can or the tank on the power unit it is degrading every day and can cause big problems when you are working an extrication. You also need to make sure no one uses the gas oil mixture in this motor. These systems do have some benefits in that they can be totally portable and carried to more remote areas.
Another option that eliminates some of the problems of these small gas engines is the electric power unit that is supplied with electric by a apparatus mounted generator. The generator is fueled with the same fuel tank that is used by the vehicle which takes the old fuel problem out of the equation. The downside of this system is that it requires electric cords be run from the apparatus to the tool. An apparatus mounted generator can be started easily and they are usually maintained along with the vehicle.
Battery operated tools are becoming popular, but I am not a fan in any way of a battery operated extrication tool. I know we are better maintaining our work tools than our personal tools, but it seems every time I need my cordless drill at home the battery is dead. There are quick chargers, trickle chargers, and probably a lot of chargers I have never heard of. I watched a couple crews try to come up with a system of rotating and charging these batteries and it didn’t look very promising. Maybe if there could be a charging system that kept the tools on the apparatus charging at the proper rate this could work. Battery life is also an issue if you choose battery power.
No matter what option you choose don’t forget to keep a few simple tools readily available. One person with a hack saw can cut through an A post long before you get that heavy equipment set up, but the heavy equipment will always win at a major incident. Next time you go out for some extrication training have a few hacksaws with fresh blades on hand for the crew to try, you might all be impressed with this simple old time tool.