There’s a whole lot more that has to happen when emergency responders extricate a trapped individual than most of us realize

July 27 – After a whole lot of emergency responders raced to TB Woods on Monday morning, some of the talk around town and on social media wondered if the response went overboard? 

But when you understand the details of what the emergency responders found at the scene, you realize there’s a whole lot more to removing a trapped person than just yanking them out of steel and conveyor belts. 

To recap, on Monday, fire, police and ambulance services were called to TB Woods, Regal Rexnord, plant a little after 11 a.m. for a man caught in one of the machines. 

Crews found 20-year-old Colby Taylor trapped by the legs between a rail car and heavy duty conveyor track. The complex incident required multiple torches, as well as rail car lifters, which were used by the company. 

It took about an hour and a half to extricate the victim. Taylor was airlifted to a trauma center in Baltimore. 

Chambersburg Fire Department Chief Dustin Ulrich said, “I don’t have any update at this time. With the fire department and EMS departments out there, we have to keep that information that we get as confidential as possible, based on HIPAA rules and just the confidentiality for the families respect.”

The original call came in between 10 and 11 a.m. 

Chief Ulrich said, “Whenever we’re responding to stuff like this, we really don’t get a lot of information until we get there. Whenever we arrived, we found the individual trapped in a conveyor type system that moves their molds across their line, and it’s a heavy duty system. It’s not just like a conveyor system that you would see at Amazon or Walmart. It’s all heavy duty, heavily built to hold four or five tons of equipment on top of it at the time. So it gets really complex with how it’s built, and also the construction of the materials.”

Taylor was caught between a railcar and the conveyor system. 

Chief Ulrich said, “The initial response is all established by our policies or what departments come based on equipment. So the initial response we have is the Chambersburg Fire Department and the Franklin Fire Department, plus, Penn State Health EMS we had as well and which brings advanced life support entities to our scene. Whenever we first got there, we knew that it was going to be a complex incident just due to the entrapment part of the individual. We start setting up our initial rescue systems and start coming up with a plan just to see what we’re going to do. It’s not something that we can just go in a lot of times and grab the patient because we really have to think about the effects if we just do that. Is there going to be other medical effects if we take them out too soon without having IVs established, medicine in them? We go in and look long term, we have to do that. Are we going to need any other equipment? Are we going to need any other manpower? Are we going to need any specialized teams? That’s eventually why we got into the Go Team from the Shock Trauma Center.”

Michele Jansen of NewsTalk 103.7FM noted, “Also describe the atmosphere there. That played a big role as well.”

Chief Ulrich said, “The atmosphere that we’re in, it’s hotter than your normal industrial center, and they have all the furnaces in there. We’re dealing with over 100 degree temps right off the bat, limited airflow and then the responders that are in the gear, they can get dehydrated very quickly. We utilize torches and some cutters to free the individual and whenever we do that, of course that brings another heat index into it. We have to focus on all of those factors as well and make sure that we have teams available to relieve those firefighters and EMS personnel within the right time.”

Pat Ryan of NewsTalk 103.7FM pointed out, “So first responders are watching out on the first responders.”

“Absolutely,” Chief Ulrich confirmed.

Ryan said “So it’s an hour and a half on this one. Without seeing what you’re seeing here, that seems like an enormous amount of time, but as you just set the table on, we don’t want to move things too fast. Obviously you know what you’re doing, but people would go wow, that’s a long period of time. What’s going on in that hour and a half?”

Chief Ulrich said, “The hour and a half for us seems like minutes. It really does. There’s a lot that goes into it. A lot of setup. In this particular instance, we would move one thing and think that that possibly could free the individual and we would find another barrier that wouldn’t allow us to do that. So we would move from point A to point B to point C and just start flowing down through our processes. An hour and a half, it does seem like a long time, but when you’re faced with heavy gauge steel, the limited access points at that point with the equipment, taking extra precautions to make sure that the patient has everything in place before we move that way if something would happen whenever we would move, we want to make sure that they’re stabilized as possible and as well as have the right medical team in place whenever we go to take them to a trauma center.”

Jansen said, “What I find really interesting, people start trying to speculate what’s going on. We do too, because we’re a news reporting organization. We’re trying to get accurate information out, but when you have a long period of time and people see all these various groups or equipment, they start speculating on the nth degree of the use of any of this equipment or groups. Of course, what you’re actually doing is you’re trying to anticipate anything that can come up. This is a complicated accident. We’ve got a patient with potentially difficult injuries that you can’t quite anticipate everything until you take upon a layer and see what’s going on. So you have to be prepared for everything and that’s why the calling of the groups and all the equipment. Then as the process moves on, you take the next best step, sometimes recalculating what you’re doing so that you optimally help the patient and utilize what you need to utilize to get this person to medical care as quickly as possible.” 

Ryan added, “The amount of resources was pretty remarkable on this.”

Chief Ulrich explained, “What we do is we look two steps ahead, just in case the next step that we take doesn’t work. In this instance, we had a medical helicopter out of Gettysburg. We had them on standby and at the scene, just in case we had to transport the individual to a trauma center in case Chambersburg couldn’t.” 

The medical helicopter landed right at TB Woods, in a back area. 

Chief Ulrich said, “There’s a lot of resources that are involved. We have multiple ambulances there to transport the teams back and forth between the helicopters in a scene because they have to bring their equipment, they have to bring their stretchers. We have various rescue teams that we bring in and we had the Franklin Fire Department, the Fayetteville Fire Department, West End Fire and Rescue. We have all of their specialized members that come and assist. At times it’s either we need a lot of equipment as well as manpower. In this instance, we needed more manpower, individuals that knew really what they were doing as well as our team to support. We utilized even TB Woods’ equipment to free this individual, their acetylene torches. They build this equipment, they know that equipment, so we’re going to rely on their expertise as well on how things operate and specifically how it’s put together.”

Ryan wondered, “With all these organizations that are making this response here, who takes the lead? Who decides who’s in charge?”

Chief Ulrich said, “It’s generally the highest ranking officer from the primary department. In this case, it was the Chambersburg Fire Department and I was the highest ranking officer with being the chief, so I was the incident commander of this scene. We have the fire and EMS department within our umbrella, run out of our stations, but there are several departments around the county that are just fire or they are just EMS or if they’re fire and EMS in the same agency, sometimes they have their own chief officers that oversee their operations.”

This was one of the more complex incidents Chief Ulrich has seen in 28 years. 

He said, “Just the overall requirements of the medical team. I have never called in a surgical team to the scene. A lot of people think whenever they hear the surgical team, they automatically assume that we’re actually doing surgery on the scene. We’re not actually doing that. They’re there if that’s needed. There is a specialized team out of University of Maryland. It’s called the Go Team. The Maryland State Police helicopter flew them up, which had medical personnel as well on the helicopter. So we had all of these individuals coming together for a very, in my thinking, a very successful outcome.”

Jansen pointed out, “When you involve a crush injury, there’s special medical things that have to be considered. So you want those experts on the scene. It just makes sense.”

Chief Ulrich said, “Absolutely. If you take that individual out of that compression too much, too early, without all those factors in, there could be detrimental effects.”

Some people thought the whole thing took a long, long time. 

Chief Ulrich said, “There’s a reason behind it. There’s a systematic approach. We’re certainly not going to delay the process any longer than what we need to get that individual out. But there’s a reason and a timeframe that we have to get them out. The amount of responders, it was a technical incident. It’s just not something that we run every day. So we want to make sure that we have sufficient staffing and backup staffing to replace those whenever we need to and multiple helicopters on the scene. It was a very bad call. Don’t get me wrong. It’s just one of those things where the community at times assumes that whenever they hear the medical helicopter, the surgical team, one of the big things that we heard was that we amputated the individual’s legs. We did not. We did not do any surgery on the scene. We had their medical team there. They did an amazing job. Everyone on the scene did an amazing job. They brought us extra items that we weren’t necessarily able to have at our disposal right off the bat, blood, some additional medicines to support our operations. It’s all about supporting each other. The big one is that we did surgery on the scene and that’s not accurate.”

Ryan reminded, “You listen to the chief with the folks that are paid and the folks that are doing volunteer work, whatever, you got Gatorade, you got snacks, you got water, they’d love to have it especially on stuff like this. I wrote a note to myself saying, I wouldn’t mind getting all the gear on or most of the gear on to get a real feel for what you are facing in this heat and that gear and then pulling a line. I might want to sign a waiver on this before you put me in there because I’m not in your kind of shape here. But let’s talk about the heat and what you guys and gals are facing out there.”

Chief Ulrich said, “We have to think about hydration beforehand. All of the crews have to make sure that they take those preemptions and make sure that they’re well taken care of just in case that does happen. We ran a fire on Sunday evening out in the Fayetteville area and then we had this incident on Monday and then Tuesday evening, we ran another fire in the St. Thomas area. The crews are prepared. We’re well aware of the situations that occur and the heat. But it is very, very draining. At times whenever incidents occur, we bring in extra manpower and keep them cooled down until it’s time for them to relieve the other crews. Then we put them through a rehab program, making sure that they get hydrated, make sure that they get their vitals checked because it is a strain on the first responders that are out there.”

How long should first responders be working in this heat? 

Chief Ulrich said, “There’s many individuals that it’s really hard to pull them away from the scene because they’re so compassionate about what they’re doing. Normally about 30 minutes. Today, whenever the heat index is going to be as high as it’s going to be, we take that time down to about 15 minutes. So 15 minute rotations make sure that they stay hydrated without getting too over hydrated.

There’s that fine line as well and we just rotate them through and that’s why at times it takes extra manpower. 

Jansen said, “Can we just celebrate how amazing it is that we have this kind of response? First of all, just be grateful we live at the time and the place we do in our country where this kind of response to any of us being harmed is so professional. They do such a good job of coordinating everything and making sure you get the best care. So we have to make sure these guys are supported, number one. Continue to be supported. But let’s just celebrate that we have leaders like the chief here, who has the experience, the knowledge to be able to coordinate something like this and make it run so smoothly. There are just so many elements here that I want people to really appreciate today.” 

The departments are always looking for volunteers.

Chief Ulrich said, “Reach out to your local fire department and see what you can do. Our hiring process, testing generally takes place in the spring of each year. We always encourage everybody to apply and to test and see what the department’s about. We invite the community and anyone that’s interested in what we do down to the department every day. Our doors are always open.”