Firefighters get schooled in automotives |

Firefighters get schooled in automotives

FRISCO – Most firefighters never expect to learn automotive mechanics and electronics, but that’s exactly what the Summit County Fire Authority is teaching them.

By learning how different makes and models of vehicles are constructed and powered, firefighters gain an advantage in saving the lives of accident victims.

Friday, at the fire authority’s training center at the County Commons, Lt. Derek Goossen started the lesson with a computer slide show on the finer points of airbag placement, the dangers of batteries and capacitors in electric-gasoline hybrid cars and how to ensure that both firefighter and crash victim survive in one piece.

Firefighters have to stay on top of the latest trends in automotive technology, Goossen said. For example, as automakers put more and more airbags in cars, the danger increases for firefighters using hydraulic shears to cut through the car’s body and frame. The explosion of an airbag can save a driver’s life, but it can also kill that driver or an unsuspecting firefighter who is too close to the bag when it releases.

Since the first cars were equipped with airbags in the 1970s, firefighters have had to play catch-up with expanding technology. Goossen said a firefighter can spend hours reviewing which manufacturer puts which safety devices where. And, while hybrid cars may be the best thing to happen to the environment since the internal combustion engine was invented, they present new dangers for emergency responders. The batteries that power hybrid cars can carry more than 200 volts – more than the outlets that run household washers and dryers – and give off toxic fumes if they catch fire. Hybrid cars also have the surprising danger of moving even when a firefighter can hear that the engine is off.

“This stuff is all good to see,” said Keith McMillan, a Red, White and Blue firefighter who found himself wondering when the next auto show would visit Denver and provide more learning opportunities for the department. “It kind of opens your eyes to the dangers you might not think of.”

With the classroom presentation gestating, the firefighters went outside to apply their new knowledge. With the help of a Colorado Department of Transportation front-end loader, the fire authority provided crushed cars to mimic accidents. The firefighters put their tools to the test.

Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue Lt. Tyson Houston said there is a protocol for approaching any accident. Firefighters have to assess the environment (fuel or oil could be leaking), determine how many victims are inside and stabilize the vehicle before laying out a plan to take their giant can openers to the car.

Houston and several of his crew have had to extricate real victims many times, but practice and training are invaluable, he said.

“The cars are never the same – they always fold differently,” Houston said. “And the accidents are never the same. The more we do this, the better. It’s really important, because when firefighters approach an accident, they can get blinders on – they only see the patient. This reinforces the right way to go about it.”

Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 237, or

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