Firefighters get life-saving tools

A new set of extrication tools is expected to enormously improve Oak Harbor firefighters’ efficiency.

A new set of extrication tools is expected to enormously improve Oak Harbor firefighters’ efficiency when freeing persons trapped in vehicles after car accidents, according to fire Chief Ray Merrill.

The Oak Harbor City Council approved the purchase of five tools and related accessories for the Oak Harbor Fire Department for $70,000 in December 2021, drawing from the city’s approximately $6.6 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds. The tools arrived earlier this month.

“We’re really excited to have these tools because it’s going to provide a much safer environment,” Merrill said.

Until now, the fire department has been using hydraulic tools that are around 15 years old. Not only are those outdated tools not strong enough to cut through today’s cars, Merril said, but they are also time-consuming to set up and cumbersome to use.

The department’s old hydraulic tools must be connected to a powerhead by a 16-foot hose. The powerhead has only two points of attachment, meaning a maximum of two tools can be used at once.

In contrast, the new tools are battery operated, freeing firefighters from the radius of a hose and allowing them to move around a car or cars involved in an accident as needed. The tools turn on at the push of a button, and all of them can be used at the same time, which can save time in the case of an emergency.

The new tools are stronger than the olds ones, matching the strength of contemporary vehicles. They can also be used up to 11 feet under water, which Merrill said will come in handy, living in such close proximity to the sea.

The fire department has been trying to procure these tools for a long time. Merrill said the department applied for an Assistance to Firefighter grant to buy the tools in 2020 but was rejected.

The new tools — a cutter, a spreader, a combination tool, a ram and a strong-arm — are expected to last for another 20 years. Circuit boards inside the tools will allow the company, Hurst, to upgrade them continually.

The fire department will train with the tools in early June.

“We hope we never have to use them, but if we do, we want to have the right tools to work with,” Merrill said.