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Bulletproof: Armoured Brinks vehicle makes for challenging extrication

It’s one thing to rescue someone trapped in a vehicle; it’s quite another when that vehicle is an armoured truck.

Under bright sunny skies on March 30, three workers were trapped in their Brinks truck after the armoured vehicle lost control southbound on Highway 427 in the northwest end of Toronto. The vehicle left the highway at about 2 p.m., crashed through a fence and landed on its side at the bottom of a large ditch.

“It’s like a bank vault on wheels,” said James Franks, captain of Toronto’s Rescue 412 (rescue pumper). “We knew this one was certainly going to be a challenge.”

Firefighters from Toronto Fire Services and EMS personnel from Peel Regional EMS work on a Brinks employee who had minor injuries after being rescued from a truck rollover near Toronto. The Brinks workers advised rescuers on the best method to get them out of the armoured vehicle.
A vehicle designed to withstand an explosion or gunfire provided crews with a very difficult extrication. The impact of the crash disabled the locking mechanisms in the armoured truck’s doors, trapping the three Brinks employees.  Rescuers knew that traditional extrication methods wouldn’t be successful because the vehicle had heavy steel doors and thick, bulletproof glass.

Gord Clark, captain of Toronto Fire Services Squad 445 (heavy rescue) immediately radioed Toronto Fire communications to update dispatchers on the situation and request that Brinks be notified and send a representative.

Because of the nature of the vehicle, it required two separate extrications: the driver and guard in the front cab of the vehicle; and a third Brinks employee trapped in the cargo area of the vehicle.

All three Brinks workers suffered minor injuries but were able to talk to rescue crews and instruct them on possible methods of extrication. Brinks workers suggested that the easiest way in would be through the glass windows.

With the possibility of disabling the locking systems on the armoured truck, it was decided to leave the vehicle’s battery connected. The vehicle needed little in the way of stabilizing as it was more or less a big steel box on its side.

The crew from Rescue 444 laid a charged hose line down to the accident scene and two members of the crew began assessing extrication of the third guard from the back of the vehicle.

Once it was determined that the doors were not going to unlock, crews began working on the glass of the vehicle as extrication points.

“The (windshield) glass had three layers to it,” said Gord Clark. “It was a three-step process to get through it.”

Crews working on the windshield chipped away the outer plastic-like layer of the glass. Using a sawzall, a small hole was then made. A Holmatro tool was then used to cut a larger hole in the glass.

While members from Squad 445 and Rescue 412 began to work on the front windshield, firefighter Josh Kramer of Rescue 444 used a sledgehammer to get through glass in the cargo area of the vehicle. Although the window Kramer was trying to breach was only about two feet by two feet, Rescue 444 acting captain Mike White estimated that the small window had about 25 kilograms of glass to it.

“It must have taken me a good 20 swings to get through that glass,” Kramer said.

The Brinks worker, trapped in the cargo area was the first to be feed.  He was pulled out through the small window onto the side of the vehicle.

All firefighters were quick to point out that had the three Brinks workers been unable to communicate with fire crews the extrication would have been much more difficult. Also, had the worker in the cargo area been unconscious or incapacitated in any way, the extrication would have become a confined-space rescue.

District Chief Jim McCracken added that because the injuries were not serious, crews had time on their side and were able to rescue the three workers safely.

“With (the workers only having) minor injuries, it was better to get them out safely than to rush things,” said McCracken. “There was no time wasted.”

After about an hour, all three Brinks employees had been extricated from the wreck. All three were taken to local hospitals with non-life threatening injuries. 

As a Plan B, crews brainstormed that cutting the hinges off the doors may have been an alternative had the glass been impenetrable. Rescuers were concerned, however, that tools used for the door removal might spark a fire.

Overall, crews took away new knowledge from this incident:

  • Avoid use of cutting tools such as welding torches as they can caused a fire…
  • Use gun holes in doors for communication with trapped staff.
  • Have every tool you may need on scene…sawzall, spreaders, cutters, etc.,
  • The quick decision to contact Brinks management was crucial to the timely extrication.

June 5, 2008 
By John Hanley

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