HFD trains for the worst kinds of car crashes with special ‘jaws’

An unfortunate reality of driving on Jersey’s roads is this — at one point or another, you’ve driven past an accident scene so gruesome you’ve had to look away. Locally, these kinds of crashes often happen on larger arteries, including Interstate 280.

But, thanks to the Jaws of Life and various other hydraulic-based tools, fire departments facing the most challenging mangled messes of a crash continue to have an easier time extracting victims from their cars. And, recently, the Harrison Fire Department did as it does at least twice a year with extraction training.

Using a town plot of land off Davis Avenue near the entrance to West Hudson Park, the HFD was able to secure several banged up, otherwise-undriveable vehicles, thanks to the folks at Associated Towing, who, through Chief Henry Richard, donated them to be used for the training.

Holmatro clippers

Over the last few weeks, firefighters used a Holmatro spreading tool, which is much like the Jaws, to continue to learn the best practices of working at what would otherwise be a horrendous scene. The also had a Holmatro lifting device which could be used to raise a vehicle — or other kinds of objects, really — for any reason.

“Doing this twice a year gives the members more hands-on experience,” Chief Richard said. “The more vehicles there are on the roads, the more training we need. And they will be prepared for whatever they face when the time comes.

Chief Richard says says the equipment is capable of not opening crushed doors, but also hoods, trunks or anything attached to a vehicle. The ones the Harrison FD use are battery-operated though some are attached to power for recharging.

But what many may not realize when being witness to a horrid crash is there is so much more than might meet the eye.

“First and foremost, keeping the passengers safe is the priority,” the chief said. “But, it is also important to be aware of whether any power lines are affected, if airbags have deployed. And with so many electric vehicles on the road now, our tablets have the ability to tell us where these lines are. Of course, the goal is to extract passengers as quickly as possible, but because of the advanced technology, we are able to know all else that comes with it, to keep the passengers safe and those working to get them out.”

Chief Richard says there’s a “Golden Hour,” the first 60 minutes following a crash. And it is in that time where it is vitally important to get everything done at a crash scene.

All told, Harrison has two battery operated devices and five wired ones.

While most of the time Harrison performs the majority of the extractions, sometimes, if a crash happens on Route 280, Kearny joins in to help.

“We have a very strong system and relationship with Kearny,” the chief said, noting when it’s not clear what town a crash happens in, one town’s department handles the west side of the highway while the other takes the eastern lanes. This significantly cuts down response time if the callers’ directions aren’t accurate.

In all, the chief is keenly aware his members are very well prepared for anything they face, from fires, to crashes, to rescues and more.

“It starts in the fire academy when they’re introduced to everything and continues with ongoing training,” he said. “They all have solid foundations and backgrounds and we all keep on top of the developing technology, especially with stronger metals being used in the construction of vehicles. I am very fortunate to have a great group that surrounds and supports me — and every single one of them do a tremendous job.”

Learn more about the writer ...

Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.