Workers in the trauma world operate in what they call the “golden hour.” If they can get a patient to a trauma center in an hour from the moment of the accident, then there is an 89% chance that patient will live.
Lifeguards in the San Diego Fire Department (SDFD) know this hour all too well as they get around 9,500 medical calls and perform about 5,000 water rescues every year. Apart from that they perform about 50 to 75 cliff rescues. And while that number may seem small in comparison, it’s actually an exorbitantly high number of cliff rescues compared to other agencies who see about one cliff rescue a year, said John Bahl, lifeguard III, who has been with the agency for 29 years.
Cranes have become an indispensable tool for SDFD lifeguards in their pursuit of that golden hour.
Whenever someone is stuck on a cliff, especially if the person is injured, SDFD lifeguards use their crane to send down a lifeguard, stretcher, and paramedic to the patient. Once the patient is loaded onto the stretcher, the response team hoists the patient, along with the paramedic, up the hill and provides immediate assistance or sends them to a nearby hospital, depending on the severity of the situation.
San Diego Lifeguards are able to perform a cliff rescue in around 30 minutes, it’s a number that’s already below the hour mark, but with the acquisition of a new IMT knuckleboom crane, that number should soon be dropping down to 10.
The new IMT crane, which will be outfitted onto a Pierce Saber-HDR firetruck, will be replacing the department’s current crane, which it first acquired in 1994. Bahl had some input into the design of that crane back when it was first purchased, and 21 years later, he’s been a driving force in the acquisition of the IMT crane.
Not only has preliminary training shown that this crane can cut the department’s cliff rescue time by 66%, it’s also going to be its also going to be improving safety. Its safety restrictions won’t allow an operator to lift something it’s incapable of lifting, won’t allow for overextension, and it’ll be easy to use.
It also won’t be prohibited by certain Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or American National Standards Institute (ANSI) crane standards that restrict what a crane can be used for.
The way their old crane was certified, it could only lift people. It might have been rated at 7,000 pounds but it was restricted to 7,000 pounds worth of people. If the department used it to lift a car off of a person, it would have to take it out of service and get the whole thing tested and have its cable replaced.
The department’s new knuckleboom crane won’t have this problem. Pierce’s legal department has given the crane a rescue rating, so the department will be able to use the crane to lift a person, car, and concrete in the same day without having to worry about taking the crane out of service.
The SDFD has often been criticized for their use of cranes in rescues. Its critics have argued that it’s violating OSHA by using a powered lift and that there’s too much risk of injury when pulling people up if the equipment malfunctions or not enough attention is paid to it, Bahl said.
However, he disputes that and says the advancements in crane technology, built-in safety precautions, and constant surveillance on equipment has nearly eliminated any risk if causing any injury to a patient due to equipment.
Given the crane’s versatility, it should be seeing a lot of use outside of cliff water rescues, Bahl said. He hopes it isn’t restricted to only coastal cliff rescues and is used in all kinds of different scenarious.