Firefighters Thrash Mercedes, for Practice

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Firefighters hydraulic cutters, expanders, saws and axes to open up a Mercedes convertible during a training exercise. Photos by Sara Hall

Newport Beach firefighters last weekend tore apart a Mercedes convertible concept car as part of a training exercise.

The black Mercedes-Benz CLK 63 AMG convertible – which is not drivable in this country and was destined for the scrap heap – was donated to the Newport Beach Fire Department by Fletcher Jones Motorcars, for use in the extrication training.

A firefighter cuts off a metal panel from a mangled Mercedes during the vehicle extrication exercise.

Three engine companies, one truck company and two battalion chiefs participated in the drill. Newport Beach police officers and CSI attended, as well.

Experienced technicians were on hand to train the firefighters and give an introduction to the new safety features of modern cars. Firefighters need to know where airbags are and how to trigger them so they don’t accidentally set them off while extricating a crash victim. If they deploy while a firefighter is working they can hurt the victim or the firefighters themselves.

It’s great to be able to work on a Mercedes, the firefighters agreed.

The firefighters practiced using their emergency extrication tools – hydraulic cutters (or the “Jaws of Life”), expanders, a rammer, saws, axes and sheer strength – to pull apart the car.

Firefighters inspect a a blade that broke off the Jaw of Life during the training session.

The firefighters went through a front-to-rear process, said Capt. Carlos Medina. First, they attacked the front hinges to free the front doors. Then, they did some preparatory cuts down below the door, where it’s mounted to the frame.

They simulated that there was some entrapment to the lower extremities, which is pretty common, Newport Beach fire engineer Ryan Popovich said, so the dashboard needed to be moved in order to free the dummy driver.

“We’re going to move that whole dash forward,” Popovich said.

Then, the firefighters moved to the rear and did a “third door conversion,“ removing the section of metal where a rear door would be if it were a sedan.

“That’s done to gain access to the passengers in the rear,” Popovich said.

They also practiced trunk tunneling, an extrication technique that involves cutting through the trunk to get inside the vehicle – particularly handy if the vehicle is upside-down, resting on its roof. They were testing the strength of the trunk and the metals surrounding it and different ways to get in if they needed to, said firefighter Travis Shook.

Firefighters work behind a cracked and rippled windshield during the training exercise.

“We were just curious,” Medina joked about why the firefighters opened up the trunk during Friday’s exercise.

They also always want to open up the trunk, Shook said, because they never know what could be in there.

The firefighters also practice a technique called “peel and peek,” peeling off all the furnishings and soft metals and coverings and peeking inside, Medina said.

The firefighters learned at least one lesson about new cars: They his a boron steel rocker panel during the exercise that broke the blade off the Jaws of Life.

Boron steel is “a remarkably hard material,” Medina said.

The tool is part of set, the entire system running about $30,000. At least it broke off during a training event and not during an actual emergency, many of the firefighters agreed.

“We’re not just having fun, we really are exploring what it would take,“ to get inside the vehicle through various means, Medina said. “To find out its limits.”

After: The Mercedes is a mess, but the firefighters learned some valuable lessons.


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