Hydraulic rescue tools are used by emergency rescue personnel to assist vehicle extrication of crash victims, as well as other rescues from small spaces. These tools include cutters, spreaders, and rams. Such devices were first used in 1963 as a tool to free race car drivers from their vehicles after crashes.
The history of the hydraulic ram
The Hurst Rescue Tool was invented by George Hurst, circa 1961, after he viewed a stock car race accident in which it took workers over an hour to remove an injured driver from his car. Previously rescuers often used circular saws for vehicle extrication, but these suffered from several drawbacks. Saws can create sparks, which could start a fire, create loud sounds, stress the victim(s), and often cut slowly. Alternatively, rescuers could try to pry open the vehicle doors with a crowbar or Halligan bar, but this could compromise the stability of the vehicle, injure the victims further, or inadvertently trigger the airbags of the vehicle.
In comparison, hydraulic spreader-cutters are quieter, faster, stronger, and more versatile: they can cut, open, and even lift a vehicle. Hurst Performance began to export parts to a European company, Zumro ResQtec, to avoid import duty. Zumro ResQtec was interested in developing these tools for use in auto racing, with ResQtec targeting the European market and Hurst targeting the American market.
The hydraulic spreader was originally developed in 1972 by Tim Smith and Mike Brick, who later developed a cutter and a hydraulic ram. When an occupant is trapped the tool is used to pry or cut the car to remove the occupant.
It takes about two minutes to take the roof off a car. ‘Mike Brick’ coined the phrase “Jaws of Life” after he observed people saying that their new device “snatched people from the jaws of death”, then used as a registered brand name for Hurst products. Brick later developed a single rescue tool that combines the functions (push, pull, cut and spread) of previous rescue tools, and patented it; the design is currently implemented as the Phoenix Rescue tool.
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