RACINE — Starting as soon as this week, area firefighters will be able to use air to help lift heavy patients, rather than just manpower.
In recent years area firefighters have encountered more and more situations involving patients weighing more than 300 pounds who need assistance, said Racine Fire Division Chief Nick Hempel.
In the past, the department had to rely on manpower to lift the patients, and that put a strain on firefighters’ backs, Hempel said.
Sometimes that also meant calling in a second ambulance to get enough manpower to lift a patient.
Using one word, Racine firefighter Tom Cannizzaro said lifting some patients is “backbreaking.”
“It puts the patients and the crew at risk,” he said.
Through a $12,600 Wheaton Franciscan-All Saints Foundation grant that Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce helped facilitate, the fire department was able to obtain new equipment that allows firefighters to use air to help lift the patients.
The HoverMatt, which firefighters can blow air into with an air compressor, operates like an air hockey table, making patients feel lighter so they can be easily moved from one area to another.
From there, patients can be transferred to another mat, which can be inflated like an air mattress to lift patients from the ground to bed height. That is called the HoverJack.
Last week the department was trained in how to use the new equipment, and new air technology should be available soon, Hempel said.
In addition, as part of the grant the department recently bought a winch and ramp system to help load the patients into the ambulance, which should be in operation in the next few weeks.
The equipment will be based out of the Downtown station at 810 Eighth St., Hempel said, and if needed the Racine crews will respond to neighboring municipalities to help lift heavy patients.
Over the years, the department has worked hard to keep firefighters safe on the job, and prevent back injuries, Hempel said.
“This is another step to keep our people healthy and able to help the community,” Hempel said.