The fire service today takes on more responsibilities and provides more special services than it did 35 years ago when I started my career as a rookie firefighter. Our fire apparatus, though safer, is much larger and carries more equipment to help us manage and mitigate such emergencies. The problem is, we are doing more work with fewer people.
‘There’s got to be a better way Lieutenant!’ Those words were expressed more than once when my men had to deploy the Rapid Intervention Team (RIT) basket to the front of a burning building. And generally, there were a few more colourful words added to the statement. Watching four of my five-man truck team navigate this 150lb basket down the street, sometimes a couple of blocks, seemed impractical for several reasons:
- Manpower: A one-person device could free manpower to run other equipment such as ladders.
- Fatigue: I would much rather have my team conserve their energy and stamina for an actual RIT deployment than exhausting themselves while hand carrying a basket down the street.
- Safety/injury: In one incident we had a firefighter lose his footing and fall, subsequently bringing the basket and a few of his comrades down with him. The member suffered a torn ligament in his knee and was off three months. The cost for medical treatment, therapy and back filling his position with an overtime firefighter was enormous.
Our new Standard Operating Procedures thoroughly explained the Rapid Intervention Team’s responsibilities and the equipment we had to have at the ready in the event a MAYDAY was declared. How we got that equipment to the building was up to us. Identifying a capability gap is an easy thing to do; it happens every day in the sitting room of most firehouses around the world. However, filling that gap with a viable solution is the challenge. We experimented with different methods, but they all proved to be problematic and inefficient.
We had to come up with a solution that was simple to put in operation and fast to deploy. Being an avid kayaker, I remember while shark fishing at Assateague one summer, spotting a man pulling his kayak down the beach with a device made of PVC pipe and two tyres. It appeared the device was binding with the kayak, holding it in place while the unit rolled down the beach atop a set of tyres. It was a simple concept that I felt with a few adjustments could be emulated and applied to a Stokes basket.
Several prototypes and months later I came up with a device that I patented and named the TURK. The kart works by turning the Stokes basket or ladder being carried into a lever, in essence turning the whole assembly into a quasi-wheelbarrow. Two protrusions from the frame of the TURK hold the top sides of the Stokes basket (or ladder) while the bottom rests in a cradle on the kart. Lifting on the basket simultaneously pushes the basket onto into the cradle while it is prevented from moving upward by the extrusions, thus locking the whole assembly together.
If the basket is in an apparatus compartment within 3ft of the ground, the TURK can be attached to the basket by one person. If the basket is on the ground, one person can simply lay the TURK on the foot end of the litter basket, reach through the cradle of the TURK, and lift the basket. The TURK slides down the basket and you are ready to roll. The basket can then be loaded with additional equipment and rolled to where it is needed. The tyres are large enough that the whole assembly can be pulled up most sets of stairs with the assistance of a second rescuer.
The TURK also has the ability to accommodate most backboards. They are transported by sliding the backboard into a bracket. The board is secured using two pins which go through the bottom of the board and then adjusting two sliding paws which hold it in place. As with the basket operation, this allows one rescuer to move a patient either by pushing or pulling, although heavier patients may take two rescuers.
The obvious advantage to the TURK is that it frees up rescuers while enhancing the carrying capability and speed of a single rescuer. This is especially useful for Rapid Intervention Teams because not only is a large amount of equipment needed but it also needs to be deployed quickly. Additionally, since only one person is needed to operate the TURK, the rest of the RIT crew are not tiring themselves out before their possible deployment. The TURK is especially advantageous to departments that have the possibility of needing equipment in an area far from apparatus access. A good example of this capability involved the use of a TURK at an incident in the D.C. Metro train system in 2009. The TURK (in conjunction with a Stokes basket) was used to move 500lb of hydraulic rescue equipment approximately 1,000ft to the incident site.
In addition to being a useful tool with fire departments and emergency services, the TURK is part of many mine rescue teams’ equipment cache. TURK was put through a series of tests in the Cumberland Coal Mines, hauling men and equipment along narrow drive belts, through crossovers and over large coal and rock spoils. The miners were impressed by its durability and ease of operation and today the TURK is used by mine rescue teams worldwide.
The TURK has been a welcome device among many fire departments and mine rescue teams because it possesses two important attributes: it is fast and simple. The fact that firefighters continue to discover different uses for the TURK beyond the initial intention of what the device was designed to do is testimony to its simplicity. Today, watching a rescue team utilize the TURK is inspiring. However, the greatest pleasure I receive is when a firefighter or miner comes to me and says, ‘Hey, thanks for doing this, it makes it a lot easier.’ That makes it all worthwhile.
For more information, go to www.turkrescue.com