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Fire grant money to the rescue

Atascadero Fire Department Capt. Keith Aggson and Cambria Fire Department firefighters Wilbur Walker, Joseph Gibson and Ryan Maloney are among members of seven departments who picked up their shares of grant-funded equipment Saturday. The equipment is designed to rescue people from wrecked vehicles. Cambria Fire coordinated the grant and distribution of the devices.
Atascadero Fire Department Capt. Keith Aggson and Cambria Fire Department firefighters Wilbur Walker, Joseph Gibson and Ryan Maloney are among members of seven departments who picked up their shares of grant-funded equipment Saturday. The equipment is designed to rescue people from wrecked vehicles. Cambria Fire coordinated the grant and distribution of the devices.

Firefighters at seven fire departments in the county have new tools to help them retrieve people trapped in cars thanks to $150,000 in gear handed out Saturday at the Cambria Fire Department.

A federal grant awarded through the California Office of Traffic Safety purchased the rescue tools distributed Saturday to fire departments in Cambria, Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo, Santa Margarita, Atascadero and Paso Robles, plus the Paso station of County Fire, which houses the North County Rescue.

It looked a bit like a firefighters’ garage sale at the fire station as participants divvied up Jaws of Life, extrication systems, stabilization struts, rescue airbags capable of lifting up to 70 tons, and portable scene lighting, all of which help first responders get people out of severely damaged vehicles.

Having a good stock of rescue devices is especially important in communities along such heavily traveled highways as Highway 101, 1, 46 and 41, where high-speed crashes frequently send vehicles tumbling, said Cambria Fire Chief Mark Miller. Those accidents can have dire consequences, especially for people trapped inside, who often have serious injuries that require treatment fast.

Which stations got which devices was based on gaps in what they already had in their supply cabinets, Miller said.

According to statistics in a joint media release announcing the grant, traffic deaths from all causes in California declined by 12 percent in 2010 to 2,715, down from 3,081 such deaths in 2009. Officials credit safer roads and cars, stepped-up enforcement and awareness along with the use of the faster, “high tech” extrication equipment.

However, new auto technologies have added new problems, Miller said, explaining that rounded designs mean a crashed vehicle can be less stable at the roadside or against the side of a cliff, and the shape means it can be harder for rescuers to get a firm grip on the car to stabilize it.

Tough new metals and improved shatter-proof glass require special tools to pry into the wreckage to rescue people trapped inside, he said, and elements such as undeployed airbags, high-voltage batteries in hybrid vehicles and new bumper designs can cause safety problems for emergency crews and the people in the cars.

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