Serving Spokane Since 1948

Firefighters worked for 90 minutes to peel back the roof of a Chevy Avalanche to free its driver. Spokane police say that that Avalanche ran into two cars that had just been involved in a wreck that started when a Cadillac Escalade rear-ended another car sending it across the centerline and into oncoming traffic.

Police have charged the driver of the Escalade with following to close to the vehicle in front of it. A witness said he heard a crash and looked out his window in time to see some of the vehicles “bouncing around.” At this time, it’s unclear how many others were injured in the wreck.

Jaws of Life

When a person is trapped in a vehicle after an accident, EMS personnel will often use the Jaws of Life, also known as hydraulic rescue tools, to get them out. Although there no national statistics on their use, there have been many lives saved or injuries lessened because of these tools.

How do They Work?

The tools use hydraulics (liquid under pressure)  to provide power to the tool which usually has two “jaws” that can be brought together or separated with great force. This can be used to cut through steel, sheet metal and other composites that are used in automobiles. The jaws can also be used to spread things apart so that rescuers can get someone out.

The Decision to use the Tools

Firefighters or EMS personnel at the scene will make the call to use the extrication tools. Typically, each responding unit has a person in charge, based on rank or seniority, and this person will make the call to use the tool. Often times, a unit has individuals specially trained in the use of the tools, and this person’s expertise will be considered when making that decision.

Factors Considered

The Trauma Center at the University of Rochester has developed a process called the Damage Control Extrication Platform DCEx which is a set of protocols when to use the extrication tools. In some cases, there is no other way to get the person out, so the decision to use the tools in not a difficult one. However, the approach and the time necessary for each approach are factors used by the personnel on the scene. The DCEx outlines how to make those decisions. The factors used are:

  • High impact and failure or non-use of restrain system.
  • Failure of the patient compartment
  • Thoracic Trauma
  • Extreme lower extremity trauma (such as pelvis)
  • Three or more step process of extradition
  • Length of time for each possible extraction option
  • Patient condition degradation

All of these, and more, factors go into the decision whether to use an extraction and how extensive the steps need to be. For example, if by taking off the roof, the patient could be pulled free but has an extreme injury, then removal of both doors might need to be done as well to reduce further injury.

Each step should take no more than five minutes, and any extraction plan that takes more than 15 minutes should be considered an extended extraction and would thus trigger longer-term care such as shock avoidance, hypothermia, loss of blood and other stabilizing methods.

What if I’m Injured by the Jaws of Life

Sometimes a patient is injured by the extrication procedure and may want to consider getting compensation for those injuries. This is difficult but not impossible. Government workers are protected by sovereign immunity, and emergency workers are protected by the “Firefighters Rule” which protects those who respond to an emergency from being sued while trying to help out.

This makes sense, however, sometimes an emergency personnel does something so egregious that it puts them outside the protection of the rule, and then can be sued. This is for things like purposefully hurting someone or being impaired while responding to the emergency. In those cases, if the person sustains injury or their injuries made worse the the worker, then the law allows for compensation.

Do I need an Attorney?

If you are injured and the hydraulic tools were used and/or you were injured by the use of the tools, talk to an attorney to be advised of your rights and have your case evaluated. Most of us do not want to make a claim against those who are trying to help us, but in those rare cases where mistakes were made, then the victim should not have to bear the full burden.

The attorneys at  Crary, Clark, Domanico, & Chuang, P.S., have the experienced attorneys trained in the law dealing with vehicle extractions and other personal injuries. They can go toe-to-toe with the insurance companies and their lawyers to get you fair compensation for your injuries. Call them at (509) 926 4900 or send them a message.





We are still open. We are also available for remote consultations and document signing.Read more.