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January 21, 2014

East’s new ‘Jaws of Life’ better, stronger, faster

EAST LIMESTONE — Like the 1970s television hero “The Six Million Dollar Man,” East Limestone Volunteer Fire Department’s new “Jaws of Life” tool is better, stronger, faster.

The battery operated tool does what the old one did in rescuing motorists trapped in wreckage, but its portability, strength and speed are like nothing these smoke eaters have seen before.

“These jaws are faster than the others and a little bit stronger, and that could make the difference in saving a life,” firefighter Kasey Brown said.

East is the only VFD in Limestone County, and along with Huntsville Fire Department, one of the few in North Alabama with the state-of-the-art tools.

Although hydraulic jaws have been saving lives for decades, those that are five to 10 years old have difficulty cutting through the new materials in some vehicles, particularly higher-end vehicles, Brown said.

“Some of the new vehicles are made of boron steel and carbon steel, which are very strong building materials, and the older tools were not up to that challenge,” Brown said.

The new tool can turn a 2-minute hood removal into a 5-second task, he said, which is important when a car engine is ablaze.

Hydraulic vs. electric

Older rescue tools operate on hydraulic power. A truck-mounted hydraulic generator linked to the tool by a hose powers some, a portable generator that can be carried to the scene of the vehicle powers others. Either way, it takes more than one firefighter to carry the equipment and operate the tool, Brown said.

The new electric or “e-draulic” jaws are better. The power supply is aboard the tool itself in the form of a 26-volt battery, just like the batteries are aboard a drill or reciprocating saw you might find at a home-improvement store, Brown said.

“So, if a person crashes and rolls 200 feet off the road, all we have to do is grab the tool instead of tying up three people — one guy can do it,” Brown said.

For those who have ever been confounded by a battery-operated screwdriver, this equipment isn’t like it.

“We were curious to see how strong the tool was so we took it to a junkyard at Import Autos on 72, where they gave us two cars to work on,” Brown said. “We took the roofs off, we rolled back the dashboards and cut the seats out of the cars. This tool cuts through metal like a hot knife through butter.”

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