Responding to Motor
BY ANDY “SIPPY” BIRON
IT’S SATURDAY NIGHT ACROSS THE United States and Canada, and you get the emergency call to respond to
your local short track, which is holding
a motorsports event. Your dispatch says
there was a wreck on the track and a
driver is trapped. What you may see
when you get on scene may be a huge
shock to you. Most likely, there is not a
well-trained or well-equipped team on
site! The facility may be “doing the best it
can,” but, in fact, could be making things
worse. It’s common, even in 2017,
that racing facilities rely on local
jurisdictions to come to the aid of
their clients in distress after an
Some race vehicle owners and
operators spend most of their
funding on performance parts
that gain 100th of a second in lap
times over new or updated safety
equipment. These same people
don’t find it alarming as they
enter the pit area of their favorite
track that, after many years, there
is still no onsite fire suppression
and extrication equipment.
When you arrive in a well-equipped engine or rescue setup to
perform vehicle extrication and fire
suppression, you may find that the local
race officials have exhausted every dry
chemical extinguisher they could get
their hands on, most likely from a distance that made application of the agent
ineffective. These same officials are in
what we would call the “hot zone,” working with limited to no personal protective
equipment (PPE). It is commonplace to
see shirtless people in jeans and shorts in
a full panic running around the vehicle.
You can expect to see various vehi-
How Do You Improve
cles parked and blocking your access
and that of other responders. From
wrecker, rollbacks, push trucks to the
property owner—all want a front-row
parking spot. These are just a few of the
types of problems you will encounter
when responding to these facilities.
How can we combat this situation
and become more proactive with regard
to these responses? Most likely, the facility would have to apply for an annual
permit to operate a public assembly.
This process may necessitate some
type of inspection. It may be a local
jurisdictional process or at the county
or state level. Whatever agency is in
charge, contact the administrator and
ask about the minimum requirements
for onsite fire rescue.
Develop a relationship with the track
owners during the off season; their time
is limited during the short race season.
Set up an informal meeting; explain that
you as the local fire department/emer-gency medical services (EMS) have serious concerns for their clients and staff
and that you are not out to shut down
their operations but to support them.
Find common ground with them.
Develop a training program for your
department that focuses on the differenc-
es between a race vehicle and a passenger
car you encounter on the public roads. The
training must impart knowledge of the
fuel delivery system, occupant restraints,
occupant PPE, and the basic construction
of racing cars; include a hands-on session.
This is where establishing a good rela-
tionship with the track owners comes into
play. They have the contacts to find old
race cars you can use for training props.
Many times, teams wreck a race car and
remove all the major components such
as the motor, transmission, axle,
and occupant restraints and put
the vehicle’s shell in a field to rust
away. With a little bit of work, the
vehicle can be built into a reusable
Invite the track owners and
management to your first training
session. You need their buy-in for
the program from the beginning.
Include also the teams who race
at this facility on a weekly basis,
and you want to dispel the notion
held by many race teams that
when fire departments respond
to a racetrack incident, the racing
car will be cut up and destroyed.
Ask the racers specifics about
their race vehicles. This is the
time you want to find out about the sys-
tems they use and which you will dis-
able or defeat while operating in the hot
zone when responding to an incident.
During the training session, both
sides need to establish policy and
procedures, which are committed to
written form and enforced by the track
officials. It will be easier to enforce
them if they are in written form and
distributed to all parties involved.
Construction of a
Typical Race Vehicle
We will cover what I call “the Sat-
urday night special.” These race cars
are nothing like the premier high-dol-
lar race vehicles of NASCAR, NHRA,
( 1) This is the type of tubing used in the construction of a race car.
(Photos by author.)