By Ian Dunbar, Rescue Consultant at Holmatro
Like any other major purchase, the replacement of your hydraulic rescue equipment is a process that can be complex, prolonged and difficult. These tools will be in service for a minimum of ten years in most countries, so it is important to get the decision right. But how do you do this effectively and what should be considered? Where do you get your information and how do you make that important decision?
The first thing to point out is that the process you are about to embark on has already been done many times before by rescue departments similar to you. So why not contact them? See who is using what and why they chose it. This will not replace your process, but it is a good starting point in terms of gaining some background information.
There are more and more options than ever before when it comes to hydraulic rescue tools. The last few years has seen many developments in self-contained battery tools and, whilst the traditional pump/hose/tool sets are still the most popular type of configuration used for rescue operations around the world, you should consider all options at this early stage.
The choice between battery tools and traditional sets should be based on a few simple considerations:
Application – Some tools are not suitable for certain applications, so all of your possible needs must be able to be met by the equipment you choose.
Weight – Weight is an issue; both individual weight of the tool (for the user) and overall weight of the set (for the vehicle). You may naturally think that battery tool sets are lighter. However this simply is not true, as it is possible to purchase a full set of traditional hydraulic equipment (pump/hoses/dedicated tools) which is lighter than a self-contained battery set.
Size – Tools that are self-contained will naturally increase in size (either length or width) and this should be considered along with application (above).
Battery Life – Batteries technology advances quickly; keep in mind that your battery life is dependent on how hard the tool is working. The tool will work much harder on new vehicles and if you are evaluating tools on older vehicles this must be taken into account.
At this point, I would recommend not choosing one concept (battery or traditional) but simply looking at all available technology to see which suits the needs of your organisation. Of course it maybe that for resilience, you actually choose both.
No doubt most people start online; looking at equipment and comparing specifications, size, weight, and performance figures such as cutting and spreading force. This is a very useful starting point and there is a lot of information available on manufacturers’ websites. However, the amount and type of information varies from manufacturer to manufacturer so already direct comparison becomes a little tricky. So whilst online research is initially very useful, you should quickly be contacting companies to get them to visit and show you their latest innovations.
I would always recommend carrying out a full back to back evaluation. This is the best and most appropriate way of testing tools ‘like for like’ and will allow for a more robust appraisal. I have witnessed many different back to back tests with a whole host of things logged and recorded. There is no right or wrong way to carry out tests such as these as each department will have different priorities.
However I would consider the following:
• The user - Who will use these tools and what are the personal preferences and requirements of those who will use them in an operational environment
• Perform back to back tests on the same day - This tends to allow the users to compare manufacturers more easily.
• Ask a specialist - Consider using a specialist rescue / extrication team to perform the assessment.
• Try and obtain actual and relevant testing material / late model vehicles - This will truly reflect the performance of the tools. This will allow you to really assess cutting performance and spreading performance.
• Use a pressure gauge - Ask the manufacturer to place an inline pressure gauge in the hose so you can see how hard the tool is working
• Practical use - Assess whether the tool performs the desired application, rather than just having the most impressive specification on paper.
Ergonomics and ease of use
When assessing the weight and ergonomics of a tool do not simply stand and hold the tool at a comfortable waist height. The vast majority of cutting/spreading applications are carried out above waist or shoulder height or down low; consider real life tool use.
After all this is how they will be used for real. Weight and ergonomics must be considered along with the specification of the tool and the desired application. It is simply not the case that the biggest tool will perform the best.
Consider things like ease of connection of the hoses; can you do it with one hand? Do you have to put the tool down or can you do this in the standing position? These are the little things that often get overlooked during a back to back test, but actually make the rescue process far simpler and reduces burden on the operator. Look wider than the tools themselves and look at how safe, quick and easy the whole system operates.
Tool speed (opening and closing) is very often measured on a back to back test. Remember however, that the tool opening in air (i.e. not under load) is not a true representation of its operational performance and again you must assess the tool during actual application. In addition remember that tool speed must be balanced with control. New vehicle construction will react very different to older vehicles and control on stiffer construction is vital.
While tool speed is important, remember that you must look at saving time on scene not just in the opening and closing of the tool but also:
• How easy are the tools to take off the truck?
• How portable are they? Can they be taken to the scene by one person?
• How quickly can the tools be connected and disconnected/changed under flow?
• How much oil does the pump deliver and at what speed?
The full package
The purchase of hydraulic rescue equipment is not simply about the tools. It is about the complete package, so please consider the following:
• Service capability. Can you easily get equipment serviced or can the manufacturer train and certify your people to carry out service on your tools?
• Training material. Can you obtain good quality training material (hard copy, app, e-learning) from the manufacturer along with industry experts to provide hands on training?
• Innovation. Are you buying into a company who consistently innovates and pushes the boundaries?
Choosing replacement hydraulic rescue equipment is, at best, a complex process. There is a clear choice (in the first instance) between self-contained battery tools and the pump/hose/tool configuration, although both should be considered carefully.
There is a wealth of information available both online and in person from manufacturers which has to absorbed. Think about the users, the desired application and look very closely at how each tool performs when it is in the hands of rescuers. Catalogue specification is useful, but the actual operational performance is the key to making the right decision. After all, rescue is not a paper based exercise. Good luck!
About Ian Dunbar
Ian was a member of UK Fire and Rescue Service for 19 years and specialized in vehicle extrication, heavy rescue and trauma care. He was an assessor for World Rescue Organization and through his work with Holmatro, as Global Rescue Consultant, he has visited nearly 90 countries in the last five years giving him a truly global view on technical and medical rescue. He is the author of Vehicle Extrication Techniques training program and works closely with Holmatro’s R&D department developing new tools and concepts. You can follow Ian Dunbar’s rescue blogs on www.blog.holmatro.com.