Fire can surprise the untrained....
Fire can surprise the untrained. It can flare up at any time, so trained crews are always on guard against this danger.
It takes a special set of abilities to steer a race car around a track at high speed, pressed within dozens of others. The senses are heightened and the adrenaline is flowing rapidly throughout the body. Under perfect circumstances, this is stressful, but when those circumstances become less than perfect, it gets even more intense. The element of survival now enters the mix.
Also entering the mix is the track safety crew. They have been on alert from the start, knowing there will be no advance warning. The crew must be prepared to move immediately, never knowing what awaits them.
It certainly requires special skills to work on a safety crew, regardless of the type of racing. Weekly tracks need workers who are trained equally as those traveling with the series.
Finding quality safety workers can start with the local firefighters and emergency medical technicians who provide safety and comfort within the community. With a little training, they can adapt to the slightly different world of auto racing.
Safety crews have to address...
Safety crews have to address any incident at a racetrack. They cover the pit area and provide their services when tracks offer special attractions such as stunt shows.
Craig Clarke is the head of Florida-based Track Rescue, which provides safety services for all types of racing. Track Rescue has traveled with series and provided weekly safety operations.
"The amount of training we do with our workers depends upon their personal level of experience," Clarke says. "We try to locate people who are already certified as firefighters or EMTs. All of our people are cross-trained at the firefighter/EMT level or higher."
To get the safety worker familiar with the sport, Clarke provides a curriculum that deals with possible scenarios in racing. "A lot of what they will be doing is similar to what they're familiar with, but it's different enough that we want to make sure they understand the sport," Clarke continues. "For example, we'll talk about how the race cars are built and get them to understand the construction. Also, they'll be dealing with exotic fuels in some cases. They don't have the concerns about burning plastics like they would at a road accident. They also need to understand that these cars are more rigid. Race cars don't have crumple zones like street cars. By the nature of the sport, they will be facing different types of injuries. There are a lot of blunt-force and internal injuries in racing.
Crews go to work removing...
Crews go to work removing a driver from an on-track incident. These crews learned about the construction of the cars in order to get the driver to safety while, at the same time, considering injuries from the accident.
"There's a lot of on-the-job training. The work involves a lot of common sense."
Because it is a specialized field, it's important to keep people once they are trained. The ones who do it don't do it to get rich. "They enjoy racing and want to be a part of it," says Clarke. "They don't mind that it is a thankless job. They understand that going into it. You have to be prepared to deal with the emotions that come about when the situation doesn't go the way someone had hoped. The drivers will take it out on the safety crew. We understand that-even if it does make the job more difficult. A few moments ago, they were in the heat of the battle. Now, they're disappointed, and they could be hurt and maybe not aware of it. You don't feel the pain until the adrenaline subsides in some cases. The promoter wants to keep the show moving, so he's trying to hurry you along. You have to do the job in the safest manner, and it may not be the quickest in the eyes of everyone else.
"We're the first ones in and the last ones to leave. It takes a special person to do that."
Upon arrival, a crew must...
Upon arrival, a crew must determine the best way to handle the equipment and people involved. If there are no injuries, they can proceed directly to securing the site for wrecker crews or spill cleanup. Some crews may assist in these tasks, but someone directs traffic around the accident site while work is underway.
While a doctor's bedside manner is important to a hospital patient, a response team's relationship with the drivers can be equally as vital. "Because of certain regulations about personal information, we try to work directly with the drivers," adds Clarke. "Many of the series will try to collect information that will be helpful in treating the drivers. We still want to establish that communication with the drivers so that they are familiar with us if they see us at the scene of an incident."
Unless there is a red flag, the response team has to face the situation of attending to a mess while cars circle the racetrack. It may not be a problem in many cases, but the potential for disaster is always there. Common sense has saved many safety workers. "We take risks, knowing we can be injured or killed, but we know that it's part of it," Clarke says. "That's why we have brightly colored vehicles with lights. A driver sees the lights, he slows down. I think you can't have too many lights. Drivers are generally good about getting out of the way, and their spotters keep them informed of what we're doing.
"We have to be in communication with the race command," Clarke continues. "We always have a point man at the head of the scene. He's watching the field. All members have a whistle. When you hear a whistle, you stop and look for danger. If the situation is too bad, more tracks will give us a red flag to allow us to secure the scene safely."
A driver may not be aware...
A driver may not be aware of the extent of injuries and should allow the medical teams to do their jobs. When the adrenaline is flowing, some pain can be masked, and failure to address it will lead to complications.
Situations involving fire require plenty of haste. These circumstances will draw a red flag, and the response must be immediate. The crews not only must extinguish the fire, but at the same time focus on additional responsibilities related to driver safety. All parties should understand the urgency of the situation.
Before Track Rescue arrives for a race, there is an inventory of equipment that is checked. "You have to be prepared," Clarke points out. "You can't have too much safety equipment at a track. If something fails, and it can happen, you have to have a backup plan and know how to switch to that plan. It's best to work with the track and see what they have that can supplement what you have."
While the safety crews haven't found the job to get easier, they have found an increased awareness in safety at tracks. There are some tracks that have been that way all along. "There really hasn't been much in terms of regulations," says Clarke. "Usually, each track decided what it wanted to do. Some of them were proactive, and others didn't have sufficient resources or equipment."
Crews often work in less than...
Crews often work in less than favorable conditions. Lighting can be poor, smoke and fire can be present, and noxious fumes from chemicals like gasoline and oil can be prevalent. Regardless of those concerns, the safety crew stays focused on the task at hand.
Safety is the responsibility of all parties. The rescue crews play a role, but it is incumbent upon everyone, including drivers and promoters, to maintain the highest level of safety possible. Rescue crews do their part by providing trained personnel. Don't expect compensation equal to the task performed and the hours spent training. A simple thank you is often enough for these workers. The safety crews know that few come to the race to watch them in action, but countless drivers have been thankful the crews have been there and properly trained to handle the job.