Life: 1, Grim Reaper: 0.

When a 4600-lb. forest green SUV traveling 85 mph smacks into a concrete abutment, it sets off a chain reaction that will eventually impact hundreds of people.

Anatomy of a Crash
Things happen fast in a crash. Our SUV hits the abutment with a force equal to dropping the car off a 20-story building. Within 0.1 seconds, the bumper and grill collapse. At 0.2 seconds the hood crumbles, fenders wrap around the concrete, and the car’s rear wheels come off the ground. By 0.4 seconds—a long blink—the front two feet of the car has flattened and the driver’s body hurls forward at 85 mph.
            An airbag inflating in 9/100 seconds saves his life, but airbags can be dicey, as they sometimes detonate at 220 mph into a motorist’s face. The second thing that saves him is a passenger in an oncoming car who sees the wreck and calls 911. Things do not look good. Among the driver’s massive and varied injuries are two snapped knees, which occurred at 0.2 seconds as he instinctively stiffened his legs against the crash.

An EMS Team in High Gear
EMS Unit Two (U-2) was heading back to the station from a cardiac-arrest when when Country Dispatch radio’d in a “Priority Nine with extreme prejudice at marker 163.16.” U-2’s team flipped the flashers and floored it, arriving in 7 minutes to find the SUV driver clammy, pallid, and drifting in and out of consciousness. Triage consisted of a neck splint, a 3-lead EKG, and a Lactated Ringers Solution I.V. to stabilize his condition.
            His breathing was labored. No surprise, since the SUV frame had buckled straight up, wedging his 230-lb. torso in a space that would have chafed a child. U-2 figured they had 40 minutes on the outside to “get him on the bus.” About then Engine 5 arrived with a hydraulic extraction tool—the Jaws of Life.

Keeper of the Jaws
Mike Doolan is a 55-year-old former paramedic in Nam who looks like a barrel on stilts. At the firehouse had pads around in rumbled shorts and socks giving noogies, but at the scene he’s no-nonsense. Mike performs a combination of surgery and ballet in what’s left of the cab, jockeying constantly so he can angle the 2-ft.-long jaws perfectly into position. It’s delicate work. The jaws cut metal with 12,000-pound bites, just inches from wounded flesh. Occasionally there’s a moan or the squeal of metal, but mostly it’s the hum of engines and Mike mumbling sweet nothin’s to the mangled metal. “Easy, darlin’. Just a little tuck here.”
            Finally, after 33 minutes and 50 or 60 snips and spreads later—the jaws can pry apart metal at 16,000 psi—U-2 has its man on a stretcher.

A True Emergency
The scenario above is nothing extraordinary to a firefighter. They put themselves at risk, time and again, for reasons that have little to do with money. (In fact, 70% of firefighting companies in the U.S. are volunteer.) Yet it takes money, a lot of money, to properly train and equip them. Basic gear—pants, jackets, gloves and helmet—costs $1,000. The Jaws of Life, $27,000 to purchase and train someone in its use. An EMS van like U-2’s “bus,” $140,000. Fire engine, $500,000.
            Thus the biggest emergency firefighters face may well be budget cuts. Cuts whose only response can be layoffs, substandard equipment, reduced services, station “brownouts.” And because slower response times mean more dangerous fires, greater risks for firefighters. Multiply those grim statistics by the staggering number of emergency responses each year—7.1 million car crashes alone—and a national crisis becomes glaringly obvious. Surely we can do better.

Fireman’s Fund Heritage Program
 It seems to us that, above all, the current crisis is a failure of will. So we at Fireman’s Fund have established a program that will honor America’s firefighters with a series of matching grants to firehouses across the country, so they can better serve their communities. Grants will be administered by a board that includes active firefighters. Who better understands the technical and logistic needs of front-line firefighters? Thus when communities raise money for training, equipment, or whatever they think is most important, Fireman’s Fund Heritage will magnify their efforts. Sort of like the Jaws of Life magnify Mike Doolan’s strength.

Our Reason for Being
Fireman’s Fund was founded in 1863, with a promise to give 10% of our profits to the widows and children of firefighters. With the Heritage Program, we hope to rekindle that founding spirit. And in some small way, repay firefighters’ greatness of spirit. There’s no rational explanation why they regularly put themselves in harm’s way. Maybe there’s just something transforming about walking into a house ablaze, saving a kid’s life, or looking into the face of a crash victim when his pulse ebbs low. Perhaps they just know that life is short. And that, for better or worse, we’re all in this together. Whatever the reason, we are much in their debt. To learn more about the Heritage Program and how you can support local firefighters, please visit www.firemansfundheritage.com