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Area firefighters hope to be best in the world at auto rescues

Members of the Lady's Island-St. Helena Fire District's Auto Extrication Team work to free a dummy from a simulated car crash Wednesday morning. The nine-member team will travel to Calgary, Alberta, on Sept. 20 to compete in the International Auto Extrication Competition.
Members of the Lady's Island-St. Helena Fire District's Auto Extrication Team work to free a dummy from a simulated car crash Wednesday morning. The nine-member team will travel to Calgary, Alberta, on Sept. 20 to compete in the International Auto Extrication Competition.

The scene Wednesday morning on a 30-yard patch of asphalt off Sea Island Parkway was gruesome.

A badly-mangled Nissan Altima rested on its side against a concrete barrier, the roof of the car smashed in. A destroyed Chrysler 300 sedan sat nearby in a similar state of ruin.

Six firefighters from the Lady's Island-St. Helena Island Fire District raced to safely remove a trapped and injured patient from the wreckage.

Parts of the vehicle were cut away, and soon the victim was freed and loaded onto a backboard. Standing nearby, Lady's Island-St. Helena Fire Chief Bruce Kline glanced at his stopwatch: 17 minutes, 14 seconds.

Using junk cars donated by a handful of local body shops,the firefighters -- who make up the department's Auto Extrication Team -- have been staging two- to four-car crashes like this one every week on a patch of asphalt adjacent to its headquarters on Sea Island Parkway. They are training to take on the world.

Today, the team will travel to Calgary, Alberta, as one of only seven American teams to participate in the International Auto Extrication Competition.

The competition consists of two 20-minute heats in which the teams must quickly remove patients trapped inside a car after a simulated crash.

Kline said competing against departments from across the country and all over the world makes his department better.

"(Team members) are constantly honing their skills and then they come back and teach what they've learned at these competitions to the other guys," Kline said.

The team formed nine years ago, and has since become one of the best auto extrication teams in South Carolina, taking first place each of the last four years at the state auto extrication competition in Myrtle Beach.

Battalion Chief Eric Taylor, the team's incident commander, said competing helps the entire department respond to real-life crashes more effectively.

"Competing allows us to ... take everything we learn back to our department and other departments," Taylor said. "It really gives us more tools in our toolbox when responding to motor vehicle accidents."

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