Sunday, 29 May 2016

Road crash rescue workshop - May 2016

Hi everyone,

I started this post on Sunday evening after the North East Region road crash rescue workshop and finished it today.  It’s been a very valuable day and I thought it might be useful to write the learnings down instead of purely carrying them about inside my head.

Car on car

The day mainly took the form of three/four practical stands covering somewhat ‘unconventional’ road rescue situations.  The first of the exercises we were presented with was of one car mounted on the bonnet of another, as here –

The object of this exercise was to stabilise the vehicles effectively. Primary stabilisation was effected with plastic blocks on both vehicles and by chocking the wheels.  Further stabilization was carried out with the always useful stabfast braces on either side of the top vehicle.

The other particularly useful lesson was the use of ratchet straps to connect the topmost part of the vehicle on top to a tree or some other fixed object to minimise the risk of it sliding and causing injury to casualties or responders. 

Car under trailer

The second stand covered cars being stuck under a semi-trailer.  This is particularly topical for North-East region units, whose areas are crossed by (among others) the Hume, Northern, Midland and Goulburn Valley Highways. 

The recommended mode of release was to disconnect the prime mover and build a tower of cribbing blocks under area of the turntable pin, which is then topped with one or more airbags to provide lift.

Image from here

The trailer is supported while lifting with towers of cribbing blocks placed under its rails.  It seems to me that if one were doing this in the field, it’d be wise to seek advice from the driver as to the distribution of the load in the trailer so to reduce the risk of overbalancing.

It also crosses my mind that a particular risk would be posed by inherently unstable loads, especially livestock.  It’s not hard to imagine circumstances where a truck carrying cattle, in particular, may be almost impossible to work on safely without the assistance of (for instance) heavy vehicle tow operators.

While the trailer is being lifted, the bonnet of the trapped car should be forced down towards the ground using a ratchet strap hooked onto the wheels: this will compress the suspension and prevent the car from ‘rising’ with the trailer.

A truck driver I was speaking with last night mentioned that many semi-trailers have adjustable airbag suspension which could on its own lift the trailer clear of a car, assuming the airlines remain intact. In the field it would be wise to ask the driver whether they can attempt to lift the trailer using the truck’s own power

Lower leg entrapment
Door removal

The third and fourth stands overlapped somewhat, covering door removal and dashboard lift.  Door removal can be effected by using the spreaders to widen the window vertically.  This will distort the door enough to create a gap between the door and the frame which the spreaders can progressively widen until they can be brought to bear on the door lock itself, breaking it open.  This process makes it almost impossible to ‘skin’ the door (that is, peeling off the outer metal curtain but leaving the door itself in place).  After the check strap is cut (boltcutters will do this) the spreaders can be used to break the lower and upper door hinges (in that order) allowing the door to be removed entirely.

Image from here
The process can then be repeated on the other door.  Working quickly, my guess is that it would take about three minutes for a road rescue crew to go from this …

… to this -

Dashboard Lift

This removal of doors leads pretty naturally to carrying out a ‘dash lift’, which may be necessary to free feet and legs which are trapped under a collapsed dashboard.  This can be carried out by using the spreaders to force the front-side panel out of the way, exposing the bottom of the A-pillar.  While working in that area, make a relief cut in the frame of the engine bay just above the tyre (you may need to crush the frame before cutting).  Relief cuts should also be made through the A-pillar and horizontally across the windscreen.

After this, make two horizontal cuts near the base of the A-pillar (remember to pry away the interior trim to be certain you know what you’re cutting into) and then pull that section out of the way:

After this has been done, the speaders can be used to lift the entire side of the dashboard out of the way – the relief cut in the engine bay frame made earlier will allow it to move without significantly distorting the rest of the car.

It was a hugely productive weekend for all of us – many thanks to the North East Region for putting it on!

Saturday, 28 May 2016

No angels need apply

Hi everyone,

I was reading a few news stories lately and they all seemed to shed light on an idea I’ve been thinking about a bit lately.
Images from here, here and here

Regular readers will know that I do a reasonable degree of volunteering, between SES and the Legal Service and the Blood Bank.  I’d actually like to do more: if I had the time at the moment (I don’t) I’d try and set up an active Red Cross unit in the Goulburn Valley (the one that currently operates in this area is essentially a dozen elderly ladies) with a focus on disaster relief as opposed to disaster response.  The thing is, I don’t think that any of this volunteering makes me a good person at any level.  Volunteering is simply what I do: you don’t expect to be called a good person for breathing (a line I have admiringly cribbed from Harper Lee).  I don’t think I’m unusual in this.  I suspect that most of the volunteers I know do it because it’s just what they do.
This was on my mind when I read about a ‘dirty bomb’exercise conducted by the Utah National Guard (and others).  The story covered the dangers and hazards posed by a dirty bomb and the sort of training that disaster responders do to be able to respond to such things.

 Image from here

The story said that -
In a highly regimented, systematic process, four guard members would carefully lift and place each victim on a portable gurney. The crew would gingerly carry the victims onto a conveyer system with metal rollers, laying patients onto solid plastic backboard, where they were manually pushed up through plastic slats into the decontamination room.
Technicians would then spray water through a rubber hose, extensively dousing each victim to remove potential elements of contamination.
Victims would then be gently pushed outside the unit to awaiting Guard members, down the conveyer system. The more seriously injured were taken onto a gurney while others walked, escorted by guard members.
After assessing individual levels of visible trauma, each victim would go to a tent were awaiting medical staff from Sky Ridge and the National Guard who would treat them.
Extensive medical equipment and supplies were ready to treat injuries that ranged from minor cuts and scrapes to severe exposure to a dirty-bomb explosion.
I don’t think any of the responders to an actual such emergency would be comfortable hearing phrases about “being ready to put their lives on the line”.  The people I’ve met in the SES don’t, I think, see ourselves doing this at all.  Sure, we do work that is (for want of a better adjective) dangerous - getting up on a roof in a rainstorm, for instance – but we’re trained to do it in a way which is about as dangerous as crossing the road.  I think we’re much happier and prouder to know that we do technical and challenging work efficiently, skilfully and with a minimum of fuss.
I think that this is important.  I don’t trust words like 'hero' or 'angel'.  It's too tempting to believe it, and to believe your organization can do no wrong. 
Image from here
My instinct says that this may be how the Mississippi Red Cross got itself into trouble recently, delivering flood relief where it was not needed and avoiding areas where they could have done real good.  They were said to be intent on running their own program and not co-operating with local authorities, and to have no desire to change.  Disaster response, like emergency response, is nothing so much as a team effort.  All the teams have to work together.
Image from here

I think the strength of the SES especially is that its members seem temperamentally unheroic.  Looking around the people I know, there seems to be a common profile.  Our occupations are respectable but not glamourous: cabinet makers; gardeners; auto electricians; minor government officers; retail assistants; cooks.  We often swear like troopers. More than a few have messy personal lives.  Our overalls are usually grimy and our boots are never polished.  Not heroes, not angels, and not glorious.  We just show up when things turn to shit.
I can’t think of people I’m happier to work with.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Emergency Responses at Railways

This note is based on the Victoria State Emergency Service's Standard Operating Procedure 23: Operations Involving Rail Track Transport.


Train Network Hazards

Rail networks around the world tend to use a mix of electric and diesel trains.  This poses particular considerations for emergency responders.  In the State of Victoria, the suburban rail network is electrically powered with overhead wires carrying 1500 volts.  The country rail network is overwhelmingly powered by diesel locomotives.

A number of factors will affect train stopping distances.  However, under normal circumstances, the following distances will apply -
  • Inner suburban train travelling at 50 kilometres (about 31 miles)/hour - 160 metres (about 174 yards)
  • Suburban train travelling at 80 kilometres (about 49 miles)/hour - 360 metres (about 393 yards)
  • Heavy freight train in a country area travelling at 160 kilometres (about 100 miles)/hour - 4 kilometres (about 2.5 miles)
Image from here


Scene Hazards

In general, the area within 3 metres (3 yards) horizontally or vertically of the nearest rail should be considered a danger zone.

If engaged in operations at a train station, the area on the tracks between station platforms is especially hazardous because there is often no escape route save for climbing back onto the platform.  This area should not be entered without a lookout being in place.

Image from here


Arrival on Scene

The control centre for the affected railway should be contacted to confirm that they are aware of the incident and can determine whether the trains should be halted on the line.  A crew leader should consider requesting that the railway operator make a technical expert available to advise on operations involving a train, although in the first instance contact should be made with the train's driver or conductor.

Rescue vehicles should not be parked across railway lines.  A crew leader should seriously consider sending one or more crew members up and down the line with a portable radio to watch for oncoming trains.


Operations on Scene

If working with an electric train, do not assume that the power is off without confirmation from the railway operator.  On any rail line, take care around points or other interlocking parts: these can move without warning and crush or sever hands and feet.

Advise the driver and the railway control centre before commencing work near or under a train.  Trains can move if air pressure in the braking system is lost, and derailment or obstacles may cause a carriage to be unbalanced and unstable.  A railway technical expert should be consulted before taking steps to lift the train from the tracks: lifting can cause the train to derail and be extremely dangerous.

Watch for Audible Track Warning Signals (pictured).  These are warning devices which explode when a train runs over them.  Do not stand within 40 metres (43 yards) of such a device as an explosion may cause hearing damage.

Image from here


Lookout Person

A lookout should be posted to watch for oncoming trains.  Given the stopping distances mentioned above, the lookout should be stationed 1.2 kilometres (0.75 mile) from the scene in a city area and 2-4 kilometres (1.25-2.5 miles) in a rural area.  To warn the driver of such a train, a lookout should walk towards the train (while clear of the track), while holding both hands straight above their head or while waving a red flag.  At night a clear light should be waved rapidly.  They should alert the crew at the scene by radio.



In general, passengers should remain on the train if there is no threat to their welfare.  Advice should be sought from the railway operator on this point.  Once evacuated, passengers should be kept together in a safe area away from the rail line.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Life lately

Hi everyone,

Sorry it's been a bit quiet here on the blog these last few weeks.  In part, work and SES things have been hoovering up time in an astonishing manner.  More seriously, though,  I've felt like I don't have any words inside me for a while.  It's hard to describe, but I've been feeling kind of rootless, and doing anything much concrete has felt kind of impossible.  In a kind of absurd way, I feel like I can't make any impact in the world.

My contract with GMW has been extended, which is good because I need the money, but the work is as valueless as ever.  Last Friday the most challenging job of the day for me was being sent out to fetch coffee and a slice of banana loaf, and this afternoon I'm likely to be asked to do some filing.  Remind me what a brilliant use is being made of twenty years' training and experience as a lawyer.

And no, finding another job is not going well.  I'm too old - and my career is too chequered - to be hired by any law firm (I was actually told this by an HR officer when I was applying for jobs some years ago, and it's surely not the less true now).  Honest to God, I have no idea what to do next.
I spent most of the weekend up on the roof at the farm, cleaning the gutters and hammering in roofing nails that had come loose.

I also then spent some quality time with the chainsaw cutting up a tree that last week's bad weather had uprooted.


I was pretty happy with that as activity.  That sort of Hank Hill style home improvement work is what I wanted in life, and what I had in the Before Time.  And I needed it after skyping with the girls on Sunday.  Grace asked me why I didn't come over to visit, and saying that she wanted to help daddy and sit on the couch and cuddle with me, and this all made me miss them even worse than usual.  Long distance life sucks on a cosmic scale.  After that, the simple but absorbing task of hammering nails and cleaning gutters while trying not to slide off the roof was kind of a relief.

I'm not certain how this week will play out.  There's some supplementary rooftop safety training with another emergency service unit this evening, and legal service volunteering tomorrow night, and then SES on Thursday and at the weekend.  At least it's practical work.  I'm getting less patient with people who want the world to be a better place, but who want someone else to make it so.  You think Australia's refugee policies are inhumane?  You may be right.  But you can make them better by applying to work on Manus Island, or by volunteering to aid new arrivals to settle in.  But if your plan of action looks like this -
There are things that we who are opposed to torture and cruelty can do. We can vote on this issue by not voting for the two parties championing these monstrous policies. We can counter the media narratives by discussing ‘alternative solutions’ to this global crisis. We can phone our unions and let them know this issue matters, that with that kind of collective support, we can make a difference to governmental policy. Unions are meant to show how we can organise toward a better world. Imagine if there were a general strike on this issue (imagine the increase in union numbers that would result). We can also join or support one of the organisations already involved in fighting detention: Divest from Detention, RISE, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Refugee Action Coalition, the upcoming March for Civil Disobedience and Refugees.

- then all you want to do is make the hard work somebody else's priority.  If you want to talk about a better world, then get in and try to have a subsidy granted to Meanjin.  If you actually want a better world, then get some boots and overalls and get your hands dirty.