OLD FORGE -- Firefighters swarmed intently around the Ace Hardware parking lot Wednesday night, armed with tools as they prepared to peel the roof off of a red Chevrolet. At this stage, few even seemed interested in a white Chevy standing on its side a few feet away.
If there was no real rush, that's because there also was no blood, no fire and no need for ambulances during this Oct. 10 extrication demonstration, the main attraction during Old Forge Emergency Services Night. It was staged in recognition of national Fire Prevention Week, which was Oct. 7-13.
"Our biggest thing was to let the public know what we're capable of, and what we're here for," said Eagle McClure Hose Co. Captain Sal Luzio, who explained the process to crowds of onlookers as crews methodically went about tearing into one car, then the other.
Police and firefighters were on hand to greet the 100 or so visitors, and many left armed with giveaways including smoke detectors.
But the busted-up cars held center stage as dusk fell. Shards of the side windows crunched under foot, saws whirred and metal buckled and gave way as the uniformed men concentrated on cutting their way into the passenger compartment of the battered red sedan. Even as the front windshield came out largely in one piece, Luzio noted that protective gloves are essential for anyone who might come in contact with the razor-sharp glass. Solemn as pallbearers, a group of firefighters hoisted the detached roof off the car and gently set it down on the ground a safe distance behind while others demonstrated how hydraulic spreaders are used to pry crumpled components apart to free crash victims.
Promoting safety was the main goal, but generating interest in the volunteer department also didn't hurt. Luzio, a structural engineer, acknowledged that volunteering can be a hard sell for many busy residents.
"It's hard, especially if you have a family. There are a lot of obligations."
For some, though, it also becomes a lifelong passion. Luzio already has 16 years of experience, having started when he was just 15.
While Luzio worked the crowd, Mike Piccoletti was among the crews working on the two wrecked cars behind him. Like Luzio, he got involved at a young age: Just 19, he already has about five years of experience under his belt.
"I had friends who were into it. I needed something to do, and it kept me out of trouble," Piccoletti said.
And he meant that literally, citing the horrific aftermath of DUI crashes, for example
"When you see it firsthand like that, it really scares you," Piccoletti said. "It gives me insight into a different side of life that most other people don't get to see."
To that end, Wednesday's demonstration was as much a training exercise for the firefighters as it was educational for the public – including some younger members who may not have had much exposure to extrication.
"It's better for them to experience it first like this than out on Main Street at 2 o'clock in the morning," Luzio said.