Waterford firefighters get heavy lifting equipment for vehicles

Waterford and sub base firefighters learn heavy-vehicle stabilization and lifting techniques used in rescue situations while working with new equipment on a mock accident at the Cohanzie Fire station in Waterford on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Waterford and sub base firefighters learn heavy-vehicle stabilization and lifting techniques used in rescue situations while working with new equipment on a mock accident at the Cohanzie Fire station in Waterford on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017. (Tim Martin/The Day)

Waterford — If you happened to drive by the Cohanzie fire station on Dayton Road on Thursday, you might have done a double take at the sight in its parking lot.

Perched atop a beaten-up silver car sat a yellow, rusting dump truck. Just behind it, a red tractor-trailer cab rested comfortably — smack on top of a blue pickup.

The odd scene wasn’t the result of a catastrophic crash or a demolition derby. No, on Thursday, it was a training site, meant to allow town and other area firefighters to test out shiny equipment that Cohanzie Fire Co. brought on this year.

The equipment is manufactured by Paratech and designed to help personnel stabilize and lift tens of thousands of pounds. According to Chief Todd Branche, it’s a major upgrade from the department’s old system, which can keep regular passenger cars stationary but isn’t made for heavy vehicles.

It’ll come in handy, he explained, if crews end up at a crash where a large vehicle is on top of a smaller one and people are trapped inside. Firefighters call such a scenario an “override,” and it’s important for a department that regularly responds to crashes on Interstate 95 to be prepared for a situation like that.

“This new equipment hugely enhances the ability of our rescue truck to do a number of things,” Branche said, pointing out that it also could be used for stabilization in a partial building collapse.

During Thursday afternoon’s training session — the first of two slated for the day — career Waterford firefighters and three Naval Submarine Base firefighters tackled the dump truck first. The town’s volunteer firefighters were expected to attend Thursday evening’s session.

Before doing anything, they analyzed the angle at which the truck sat. Instructor Paul DeBartolomeo — a New York City firefighter who runs a company called Connecticut Custom Fire Training — cautioned the firefighters.

“If you look at this car, with the weight of the truck, the car is crushed down,” DeBartolomeo explained. “As we lift the truck off of the car, the car’s suspension is going to release and chase the truck up, requiring us to lift higher.”

To mitigate that, firefighters tightly wrapped straps and chains around the front and back of each vehicle. They strategically placed 4-by-4 pieces of wood behind the truck’s back wheels, knowing it could roll. They hooked the back of the silver car to the front of the rescue truck, ready to reel in the silver car when it was freed.

Then, they began working with the new equipment.

They attached gold poles, known as struts, to Paratech’s HydraFusion tool, a hand-powered pump able to lift vehicles 10 inches at a go. At an about 70-degree angle, they placed the ends of the poles against the tops of the driver and passenger side doorframes of the dump truck.

Then two firefighters pumped in sync, each effort bringing the truck about a half-inch higher.

From the outside looking in, it was a relatively painstaking process. In a situation where someone’s life is in danger, it no doubt would feel even longer.

Still, the operation was successful. After DeBartolomeo broke off the silver car’s windshield wipers, firefighters were able to pull the car from under the dump truck without any issue.

“That was a good job today,” DeBartolomeo told the firefighters before offering a few more pointers.

The department has the equipment thanks to a capital improvement plan Branche began dreaming up about four years ago.

Branche, who said the new package cost about $25,000, said the department also has upgraded its high- and low-pressured air bags over the past couple years. From here, he plans to convert some of Cohanzie’s “Jaws of Life” hydraulic extraction tools from electric- to battery-powered. It’s a move that will allow firefighters to use the tools without being connected to a truck.

Branche gave Northeast Towing in Norwich a shout out for providing the tractor-trailer used in Thursday’s training. He also said New London-based Padgett & Sons Towing, with its new rotator truck, helped put the large vehicles on top of the small ones for Thursday’s training.

“These situations do happen,” DeBartolomeo said. “These guys have to be prepared, especially when they’re responding up on 95, for situations like this.”

l.boyle@theday.com

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