The devices are well known in the profession: the “jaws of life,” a cutting tool and ram, designed to free people from the mangled wreckage of motor vehicle accidents and other mishaps. But the devices approved for purchase at a recent Monarch Board of Directors meeting will be the first the district has purchased with their hydraulic function powered by batteries.
No, these batteries don’t resemble the kind you slip into a flashlight or smoke alarm. These are 24-volt powerhouses that can generate the thousands of pounds of hydraulic pressure that enable the tools to cut through car pillars and spread apart pieces of wreckage that have been compressed by an accident’s impact.
“Battery-power technology has advanced tremendously in recent years,” said Monarch Battalion Chief Dave Schmitt, who presented the recommendation for the tools’ purchase to Monarch directors.
Among other things, the batteries used with the new tools are interchangeable and rechargeable. In more time-consuming rescues that exhaust a tool’s battery power, the device can be plugged into any standard electrical source for continued operation.
The recommendation to buy the battery-powered tools wasn’t made lightly or quickly. Before seeking bids, a team of Monarch firefighter/paramedics did what Schmitt described as “extensive field testing” of four equipment brands similar in design and functionality.
The evaluation process before bidding was because all the tool brands are sourced from vendors whose service areas are proprietary. In short, if you are interested in a particular brand, the source in your geographic area is one, and only one, vendor.
However, the Monarch group did compile lists of recent sales to validate cost comparisons. Cost of the three Hurst brand tools from Sentinel Emergency Solutions of Arnold was $28,836.
Advantages of the battery-powered equipment include their lighter weight and the fact that their hydraulics don’t require an external power source connected by hoses to the tools. Eliminating hoses avoids tripping hazards and another place where equipment failure can occur.
Monarch waited until it had a more certain date of when its new truck will be delivered before ordering the tools. That way, the warranty clock for the battery-powered devices won’t start ticking long before the rescue pumper on which they will be placed is available.
The longer-than-usual time from when the truck’s purchase contract was signed early last year until its projected delivery date is typical throughout the fire and rescue apparatus industry, Schmitt explained. He pointed to the economic rebound after the Great Recession. Most fire and rescue operations suffered from a revenue squeeze during the recession and cut back on buying major capital equipment items. With the current, stronger economy, departments now are playing catch-up in replacing older vehicles and wait times for getting new custom-made trucks can be well over a year.
As with Monarch, the West County Fire Protection District acquired battery-powered rescue tools to equip a new rescue pumper it put into service last July. Extrication devices on other trucks with rescue equipment continue to be the traditional model, said West County Chief Jeff Sadtler.
The district had tried battery-powered tools early in the new millennium but found their performance lacking. However, Sadtler added, “The new generation equipment is significantly better and everyone seems happy with it.”