Naugatuck firefighters say they need new tools

NAUGATUCK — The Fire Department is scraping together surplus money to buy at least one new set of hydraulic extrication tools, commonly knows as “the jaws of life,” after antiquated tools caused problems during two extrications this year.

The two sets of Hurst rescue tools the department has date back to the 1970s and 1980s, Fire Chief Ken Hanks said. Newer cars, notably those built after 2003, are made from alloys that older tools have trouble cutting through, firefighters said.

“It used to be the high-end cars that had that — the Saabs, the Mercedes — but now all cars have these safety features,” Fire Chief Ken Hanks said. “You get fatigued real quick. We want something newer that will cut faster so we’re not spending that much time doing it.”

One new set of tools will cost $30,000 to $40,000, Hanks said. The department came in under budget this year, although the exact amount of the surplus is still being determined, Hanks said, adding he will go before the Board of Finance with a proposal to mark some of the surplus for the new tools.

Firefighters tested a set of TNT Rescue tools Wednesday sold by Northeastern Fire out of Cheshire, using them to tear apart an old Chrysler convertible donated by Sibby’s Automotive at 600 High St. They have also tested new sets from Hurst and Holmatro, a Dutch company with its stateside headquarters in Maryland.

The firefighters will choose the brand they feel most comfortable with, Hanks said.

Using the more modern tools, an eight-man crew spent about half an hour Wednesday ripping doors off the car, removing the roof and the windshield and punching through other windows for good measure.

By comparison, it took a crew 17 minutes just to remove doors during an April extrication after a man crashed his 2002 Nissan Xterra hard into a Field Street house, Capt. Richard Alfes said that day. Three weeks before that, firefighters had trouble popping a door for what should have been the simplest kind of extrication after a late-night accident in front of the firehouse, Alfes said.

Extrication tools use a hydraulic pump to operate cutters, which are like huge scissors, and spreaders, which push panels of the car apart and are often used to remove doors. Hanks estimated the department handles six to 10 extrications per year.

“Each extrication is a problem we have to solve, and sometimes the solution is to take the roof out,” Hanks said. “The ultimate goal is to protect the people inside. We remove the car from around the person.”