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his article is meant to be an overview and not a detailed guide on rescue carries and drags. Seek professional training before attempting to use any tools or techniques discussed in this story.
I have been a firefighter for over 20 years and relocating people away from precarious or deadly incidents is an essential component of my job. Among the seemingly endless tactics a firefighter is taught from day one, the ability to remove someone from harm is near the top of the list. Life safety is the top priority and whether you’re moving someone from danger or delivering them to lifesaving medical aid, knowing safe and effective ways to conduct these maneuvers can make all the difference.
For many people, the general inclination is to carry someone as they’ve seen on television. Despite what Hollywood would have you believe, you will rarely, if ever, see someone carrying an adult victim out in front of them “cradle in arms” style. This can be used for an infant or child, but carrying a full-sized adult victim for any distance greater than a few feet, particularly over uneven terrain, is impractical and dangerous. Therefore you’ll need to know the correct techniques to use when moving a victim and when you should employ them.
Once you’ve determined there’s a need to remove someone from harm or get them to a position where they can receive help, quick but careful thought must be given to how this will be performed. There are two different categories of emergent victim removal: carries and drags. Each has their place and which one you should apply depends on several factors.
Victim Carries: When one or more rescuer is able to lift the victim and carry them to a location of safety.
Victim Drags: The movement of a victim by lifting part of their body as the other part drags — often used when a carry isn’t possible or practical.
Regardless of whether you carry or drag a victim to safety, you must remember to keep your own safety a high priority. It doesn’t sound heroic to say, but it does no good for anyone if you injure yourself and become part of the problem rather than the solution.
Moving a victim is harder than most realize. If the victim is conscious, pain from their injuries may cause them to shift their weight around while you’re moving them, creating a scenario where your back or joints are forced into unnatural or unsafe positions — leading to a strong likelihood of rescuer injury. The victim may be vocal, crying or shouting, distracting you from your task, which also lends itself to injury.
If the victim is unconscious this creates a deadweight situation. They’re unable to assist you in any way, tell you if you’re hurting them, or causing greater injury by your movements. Also, the mental demands of moving an unconscious victim already increase the rescuer’s anxiety out of concern.
The techniques discussed in the article are tried-and-true first responder techniques that are applicable to any survival situation. The way you choose to relocate a victim will depend on several factors and exact steps may vary depending on victim injury:
You may be the only person available to help, or perhaps your team has already split up to render aid to multiple victims. Either way, there are times when you’ll be forced to move someone by yourself. Carries conducted by a single rescuer can be extremely taxing on the rescuer. Adrenaline will work both for and against you. You may feel a sudden burst of energy and strength, but will lose it just as quickly. The body will compensate by relying on large muscle groups, such as the back, as this could result in rescuer injury. One-person carries should only be performed with the confidence that you won’t cause injury to yourself or further injury to the victim.
One-Person Walk Assist
In mass-casualty training, we refer to people who can self- extricate with little or no assistance as walking wounded. If your victim is able to walk with only minor help from you, let them. The one-person walk assist offers the least chance for injury to both rescuer and victim.
Made famous by the occupation, this type of carry should only be conducted by a very strong rescuer and a smaller victim. It’ll require good lifting techniques as well as good core and lower body strength. Traversing uneven ground can be difficult because, with the victim in place, the rescuer becomes very top heavy. The firefighter carry can be used on either a conscious or unconscious victim.
Pack Strap Carry
The pack strap carry has been utilized by the military for decades. It’s a quick, down-and-dirty way to move a victim quickly. If not done correctly, this carry can be extremely uncomfortable for the victim. This is typically used on a conscious victim. For an unconscious victim, it can be done, but you may require assistance getting them into the position for you to safely follow the steps.
The most safe and efficient way to carry a victim is by two rescuers. The rescuers can share the weight, help each other watch for hazards, and work together efficiently without crowding too many people around the victim. It also reduces rescuer fatigue, which allows the rescuers to cover a greater distance or to return to aid more victims.
Two-Person Extremity Carry
This is a common carry that’s used by first responders and the military. It’s easily performed, but best suited for moving a victim over even terrain, such as along a paved path or within a building. Both conscious and unconscious victims can be carried in this manner.
One universal truth when speaking with anyone who prepares for catastrophe is that you use what’s available to you. Moving victims is no different. A chair, for example, makes the transport of a victim significantly easier on the rescuers. This method is easier to perform with a conscious victim, but can be done with an unconscious victim as long as due care is taken.
Two-Handed Seat Carry
The two-handed seat carry should only be conducted on conscious victims. Rescuers will utilize their arms to create a seat and the victim will need to be able to hold on for balance and stability.
A victim drag is typically employed when victim removal is time-critical, or when the size of the victim prevents a safe carry. A coordinated carry is always the safer option, but under certain circumstances, a “grab ‘n’ go” is necessary, particularly if the victim is unconscious. Oftentimes, though, when victims need to be relocated the terrain is uneven and treacherous, creating a dangerous scenario for both the rescuer and the victim. However, when a rapid extraction is necessary, a drag may be the only option. If at all possible, debris should be cleared from the path of the drag to reduce the chance for injury to the rescuer and further injury to the victim.
Along the same line of thought as the chair carry, utilize what you have available to you when performing a victim drag. The blanket drag can be performed with a blanket, or a sheet, curtains, towel, tarp, or anything else that’ll accomplish the same goal.
The shoulder drag is another emergent maneuver for when a person needs to be moved quickly. This drag is difficult to perform over long distances as it’s physically taxing on the rescuer.
The feet drag is a last resort. Moving a victim in this manner will most certainly be uncomfortable for the victim and will likely cause greater injury. It’s a “life over limb” technique. This can really be accomplished only if the victim is unconscious because of the pain of dragging their torso and head along the ground.
Scott Finazzo has over 20 years of experience as a firefighter. He’s a member of his department’s technical rescue team and has served as an instructor since 2000. Scott has written five books, including the national bestselling The Prepper’s Workbook and The Neighborhood Emergency Response Handbook, as well as his narrative of a kayak journey through the Virgin Islands called Why Do All the Locals Think We’re Crazy? Follow Scott at www.scottfinazzo.com.