How one Southern Utah fire department is defying the odds to save lives with powerful new equipment

This 2017 file photo shows a crash on state Route 59 near Hildale, Washington County, Utah, Jan. 23, 2017 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The Hildale-Colorado City Fire Department unveiled new, state-of-the-art equipment designed to assist in extricating the injured from crushed vehicles or confined spaces, thanks to a grant from the Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.

Hydraulic extrication tools, including a cutter, spreader and ram; photo for illustrative purposes | Images courtesy of Hurst Jaws of Life, St. George News

Time is key in surviving a vehicle crash, and having the tools needed to rapidly remove an occupant from a destroyed vehicle is critical. Proper equipment allows injured patients to be “quickly on their way to a trauma center by ambulance, or even by medical helicopter, if necessary,” Hildale-Colorado City Fire Chief Kevin Barlow said.

To that aim, the Fire Department is now sporting new battery-operated extrication tools after Arizona’s Highway Safety Director Alberto Gutier presented the department with a grant award of more than $11,800.

The highway funds released in October were recently combined with roughly $25,000 in district funds approved by the department’s governing board, Barlow said, which allowed them to purchase the complete set of rescue tools for just over $37,200.

“The $11,800 was used to purchase the hydraulic spreader,” Barlow said, “and we used the funding from the district to purchase battery operated cutters and a ram, so we now have the compete set.”

Barlow said new vehicle technology has created the need for more advanced tools. He explained that the materials used in modern automobile manufacturing have enhanced safety but can also present challenges for rescuers if a person becomes trapped beneath the twisted metal.

“These powerful tools are designed to match the high-strength metals used in modern vehicles,” Barlow said.

The battery-operated equipment will enable firefighters to cut rescue time spent at the scene, as the tools are not tethered by a power cord, which enhances maneuverability and increases safety, a priority in operations that involve rollovers or severe car crashes where space is at a minimum.

Firefighters use extrication equipment at the scene of a crash, date and location not specified | Photo courtesy of Fire Rescue I, St. George News

Saving time is particularly important for Hildale and Colorado City, Arizona, where crashes typically take place in remote areas that require more time for emergency crews to arrive and subsequently transport patients.

Many times rescue crews are more than 50 miles from the nearest hospital, a lengthy ride for crash victims who are transported from the Hildale area to Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George.

Barlow said the Fire Department has seen some “horrific crashes” on Highway 389.

“This equipment will make a big difference in our ability to help,” he said.

Hildale-Colorado City firefighters are well-trained in auto extrication techniques. Several are certified vehicle entrapment technicians with training that Barlow said will come in handy when using the equipment that “is already mounted on our fire engine and ready to go to work when needed.”

Fire departments are always looking for ways to cut rescue times without jeopardizing the safety of civilians or crews on the way to the scene.

Speed can create risks, Barlow said, explaining that the grant the department received came from Federal 402 highway safety funds aimed at increasing road safety by reducing rescue times at the scene, which leaves more time for emergency vehicles to get there and out.

The goal is to reduce the number of crashes involving emergency vehicles, an issue that impacts communities nationwide.

Saving lives is a combined effort. With the advanced equipment, a well-trained crew of firefighters and the expertise of trauma teams at the hospital, Barlow said “we can greatly increase survivability rates, and that’s the end goal.”

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Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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  • mshaw January 6, 2019 at 7:21 am

    If you look at the truck you will see it belongs to a polygamist who most likely ran through apple valley passing everything in sight and running others off the highway in the process. If they drove half decent on that road the fire department would not need the new equipment and the brothers cousins mother could live in harmony to dream of another day to be with Warren

    • Happy Commenter January 7, 2019 at 8:10 am

      How do you know who that truck belongs to? Are you psychic?

  • homer498 January 6, 2019 at 10:47 am

    While the driving habits of the Polygamist community aren’t something I can speak knowledgeably about; I can say that Fire / Rescue w/o these tools is the ridiculous equivalent of Medic’s & EMT’s w/o tourniquets & bandages, Police w/o sidearms, and Firemen w/o hoses! My 1st EMT certification class with Don Reid 30 years ago thought these tools so important we spent the day at the junk yard using hydraulic can openers, Jaws of life, Kevlar heavy lift airbags, among other tools to breakthrough windows, tear off doors, pull steering wheels up & out the front window, cut holes in the roof, or just take the roof off etc etc. I think I would rather see Fire / Rescue show up in a covered wagon with these tools, than a Big Red truck w/o them. Taxpayer $$$ and/or donations well spent.

  • r2d2 January 6, 2019 at 11:36 am

    These tools are right up there with the defibrillator. Now the rest of the departments can see how well they work.

  • Comment January 6, 2019 at 1:41 pm

    $12,000 for one battery-powered spreader? If China made it you’d see it at harbor freight on sale for $99. And how much of these ones are made in china I wonder? What exactly is it that justifies a cost like that? Does the company have some sort of total racket going to supply gov’t? Is it like the gilded $10,000 toilet seats for the pentagon? I can see why something like this is needed, but wow, you don’t get much for $12 LARGE. And the batts prob cost $1500 each or some absurd amount when they are essentially just ordinary Li-ion power tool batts. Also hope they don’t throw out the actual old-school hydraulic ones for when Bubba shows up to save the day, but having forgotten to charge up the batts for these $12,000 ones.

    • homer498 January 6, 2019 at 4:46 pm

      Really? Well, when you’re the 12 year old child in the back seat freaking out from the excessive bleeding of a head wound from the roof that gave it too you and is only giving you 6 inches of headroom, and the doors are no longer doors, but unrecognizable objects that won’t budge; maybe the “Jaws” which are spreaders as well as cutters that take the roof off, and open the doors will be worth their weight in gold when they cut off the steering wheel that is compressing your Fathers shattered rib cage making it tough for him to breath, and finally, break the passenger side front seat from its mounts to free your Mothers broken legs. Request Chinese tech when you talk to 911, and make sure you don’t call out Life Flight, those Helo’s are freakin millions to operate.

      • Comment January 6, 2019 at 6:34 pm

        You really gonna pull the “what about the children?!” card? The “hydraulic” tools in the photo look like they were likely made in china–plastic casings and all. Regardless of what country the tools are made in, I don’t understand what justifies the $12,000 price. At most, these tools cost a few hundred dollars each to manufacture.

        • homer498 January 6, 2019 at 10:44 pm

          Ok, let me put in language you’re ok with. “The gun totting boob job in the 2-piece string bikini in the backseat, clearly needed immediate extract so the 500 cars waiting in traffic could watch her twist an ankle on the roadside; but our damn Chinese Communist “Jaws of Life” tool set that we picked up on Craigslist for $32 from “a guy” in Dixie Downs who got it in trade out at the “Rez” last Friday night for a case of PBR. But the hydraulics exploded when we plugged them in. There are some things that are worth the money. Like your Kimber 1911 as opposed to say a Norinco 1911. Which would you bet your life on?

          • Comment January 7, 2019 at 10:56 am

            You’re missing the point. I fully understand the need for these, and I understand they need to be built to very high standards–you don’t want the ChingChongChang knockoff brand when lives depend on the reliability/durability of a tool. But, even built to extremely high standards, is the $12,000 per tool price justified?

  • Happy Commenter January 6, 2019 at 5:20 pm

    This article has nothing whatsoever to do with polygamy or the FLDS. Why is it that the bigots get to spout their hatred just because Hildale is mentioned?

  • Terry January 6, 2019 at 9:35 pm

    If Washington City and St. George don’t have these important tools, let’s get the Councils to allocate the funds. If they won’t, let’s do a Go Fund Me. You never know when these tools might save our own lives.

    • homer498 January 6, 2019 at 10:45 pm

      They’ve had them for 40 years.

  • utah505 January 7, 2019 at 6:35 am

    All I know is the spirt of god is the spirt of peace ?

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