Ratchet It Up!

A high-quality ratchet strap can be a helpful tool for a variety of extrication functions

By Les Baker
Published Tuesday, April 17, 2012 | From the June 2012 Issue of FireRescue

To be proficient in extrication operations, rescuers must understand how to use a variety of hand tools to supplement hydraulic rescue tools. These tools present a simple, easy solution to many problems and are extremely effective when you don’t need the significant force produced by more mechanical means.

I remember my first lesson on ratchet straps many years ago when I was helping my sister move to college. My dad and I were watching someone who was trying to secure a load of boxes onto a cart with a small ratchet strap. After repeated attempts to tighten the strap, they abandoned it, only to have the boxes fall off. My dad told me a ratchet strap can make you look like a fool quicker than almost anything else, but it can also be an incredibly helpful tool—if you understand it.

Ratchet straps are commonly used for stabilization to assist with strut applications, marrying vehicles and objects together, containing suspension system travel during lift operations, tension management, etc. However, there’s not a lot of information available on the other tactics that can be completed with a high-quality, well-maintained ratchet strap—and that is the basis for this month’s column.

Ratchet Strap Specifics
There are various grades of ratchet straps, and they should be matched to their needed use. A ratchet strap used for vehicle extrication applications should have several common features: It should be approximately 20–30 feet in length, constructed of polyester to resist most hazards at a vehicle collision, and have a minimum working load limit of 4,000 lbs.

A ratchet strap provides a certain amount of mechanical advantage, and those used for rescue purposes can generate up to 600 lbs. of pulling force. The drum can hold approximately 30 inches of strap before locking up, which allows for pulling tactics and tension management. The efficiency of the ratchet strap can be increased by purchasing a strap with J hooks and/or clusters attached on each end, such as the Extrication Strap by B/A Products. The responder can quickly find connection points anywhere around the vehicle. If the ratchet strap only has wire hooks or snaps, ensure J hooks and clusters are available.

To increase its effectiveness and convenience, store the ratchet strap with the crank handle in the open position, with the strap pulled through the drum. This allows the end to be pulled and deployed without the strap getting twisted. Place the strap in a small container with edge protection, anchor straps, etc., which may be used during deployment.

General Guidelines
Before delving into those tactics for which ratchet straps can be useful during extrication operations, let’s address some general guidelines:

  • Locate the ratchet end on the stationary side. The ratchet will remain stationary during the pull.
  • Ensure patient and rescuer safety by properly placing hard and soft protection and observing safe tool techniques.
  • Inspect the strap for damage before use, looking for signs of cut webbing, heat or chemical damage, excessive wear or other defects.
  • Always protect webbing from sharp edges, chemicals and high temperatures.

Let’s now turn to some uses for ratchet straps.

Displacing Pedals
Depending on the collision type and severity, the driver’s feet may be entrapped by the clutch, brake and/or accelerator pedal. If this is the case, responders should determine to what degree the pedal is contacting or pinning the vehicle occupant, as well as the most appropriate tools and tactics necessary for accomplishing disentanglement.

Pedal construction consists of a solid metal shaft with a foot pad welded to the end. The pedal’s design gives it some strength when moving front to rear. However, it is significantly weaker when stressed sideways, which makes this an ideal situation for a ratchet strap. Even when the direction of movement needs to be upward, the ratchet strap can typically create enough force to bend the pedal or break the assemblies.

There are several advantages to using a ratchet strap to release any pedal entrapments:

  1. The foot well area is a constricted space even in vehicles that have not sustained damage. Attempting to directly cut or displace pedals can be very difficult and hazardous for the patient’s lower extremities. A ratchet strap combined with a webbing sling facilitates a remote means of moving the pedal. The smaller webbing can be girth-hitched around the pedal for easy manipulation and connection.
  2. This method is quick and requires a minimal amount of equipment.
  3. By anchoring the ratchet strap in the direction of the needed movement, the pedal can be moved in practically any direction.
  4. The ratchet strap secures as it pulls and limits reaction force.

Displacing Seatbacks
A front- or rear-seated patient may have extremities that are trapped between the seatback and the Bravo post. One method of freeing the entrapment is to displace the Bravo post outward using interior ram operations, but this method takes longer than displacing the seatback itself. A ratchet strap anchored in the direction of the needed pull will move the seatback several inches. In this situation, you’re only looking for two to three inches of movement to free an extremity. Note: Before the seat can be manipulated, the patient should be properly packaged as dictated by their injuries. Communicate with the medic before beginning the tactic so they can support and monitor the patient.

Door Extension
Most patients in minor vehicle collisions are removed through the closest door. Even in moderate or heavily damaged vehicles, the door may be operable. If the door still works and the opening is the preferred path of egress, responders can create several additional inches of space by hyper-extending the door. You may be tempted to try to manually force the door by pushing or pulling against it. Unfortunately, this rarely works and results in vehicle movement. So after severing the door check with bolt cutters or other cutting tools, attach a ratchet strap to the door and anchor point near the front of the vehicle. Many times, the front wheel assembly can be used as an anchor point; if not, locate a substantial point on the undercarriage or front bumper area. This tactic can also be used in a similar fashion when implementing a door or side tactic and time does not allow for complete removal.

Summary
Ratchet straps may not be capable of completely making the path of egress, but they can assist in many areas of the extrication process. They are quickly deployable and useful for tasks where considerable force is not needed.

A special thanks to B/A Products and Beaver Lane Fire Rescue.

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Responders should store ratchet straps in a state of readiness along with complimentary equipment, such as edge protection, anchor straps and slings. Photo Les Baker
This ratchet strap was anchored to the passenger-side Bravo post and used to displace the brake pedal. The pedal can be moved in almost any direction depending on the anchor point. Photo Les Baker
This ratchet strap was anchored to the driver-side Bravo post and used to displace the passenger-side seatback. This tactic could be useful if the front seat occupant’s arm was trapped or if the rear seat occupant’s leg was trapped between the seatback and post. Photo Les Baker
A ratchet strap can be used to extend a door or side if time does not allow for a complete removal. Photo Les Baker


Ratchet It Up!

A high-quality ratchet strap can be a helpful tool for a variety of extrication functions
Responders should store ratchet straps in a state of readiness along with complimentary equipment, such as edge protection, anchor straps and slings. Photo Les Baker


This ratchet strap was anchored to the passenger-side Bravo post and used to displace the brake pedal. The pedal can be moved in almost any direction depending on the anchor point. Photo Les Baker


This ratchet strap was anchored to the driver-side Bravo post and used to displace the passenger-side seatback. This tactic could be useful if the front seat occupant’s arm was trapped or if the rear seat occupant’s leg was trapped between the seatback and post. Photo Les Baker


A ratchet strap can be used to extend a door or side if time does not allow for a complete removal. Photo Les Baker

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