Region's firefighters get F.R.E.E. training in Bellevue | Slideshow
March 25, 2010 · Updated 10:39 AM
Cars are all about protecting things these days, from people to the environment. Think hybrid-electric technology, high-strength steel frames and airbags that cover every square inch of your body.
These features are great for motorists, but they present obstacles for the rescue workers who have to pull accident victims from crumpled wrecks.
Firefighters from eight Puget Sound fire departments trained in Bellevue Wednesday with saws, spreaders, cutters and other metal-manipulting equipment, learning to perform emergency extractions from the modern vehicles that carmakers have designed so thoughtfully.
The National Auto Body Council and Precision Collision offered three of these First Responders Emergency Extrication (FREE) lessons this week – one each in Kent, Bellevue and Everett.
Their plan this year is to hold 80 to 100 courses across the nation, free of charge, with help from insurance companies that donate late-model vehicles.
"If anyone can get a person out of a car 20 minutes faster because of what we're teaching, then we'll feel like we're doing our job," said Precision Collision representative Mark Lovell. "If your family is in a rollover accident, you want the first responders to have the latest information."
Most firefighters know the basics of emergency extrication, but there are always new hazards to think about. These days, that means electricity from a silent-running hybrid, or the blast of an airbag that deploys late – from virtually anywhere in today's cars.
And when it comes to techniques for clawing, cutting, and prying their way into wrecked cars, rescue workers say there's no substitute for practice.
Bellevue firefighter Mike Williams estimates he's been involved in six emergency extractions, and each one presented unique challenges. Preparation, he says, has always been the key to staying calm, whether the vehicle is upside down, stuck in a river, or crushed to half its normal size.
"We're the people with all the training and the protective gear, so we owe it to whoever's in that car to do the best job we can," Williams said. "It's what we're paid to do."
Firefighters from the Seattle, Redmond, South Kitsap, Gig Harbor, Kititas, and East Jefferson fire departments, as well as Eastside Fire and Rescue, were involved in Wednesday's training event in Bellevue.