Published: Jan. 15, 2009

MSU trains firefighters to rescue workers caught in machinery

Contact(s): Andy Henion Media Communications office: (517) 355-3294 cell: (517) 281-6949, Scott Tobey Criminal Justice office: (517) 432-3981 cell: (517) 896-5465

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State University’s emergency-response experts will train firefighters from across the state on how to free people who are trapped in machinery – a problem that has led to more than 100 deaths and untold injuries in the past five years.


The training, funded by a grant from the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration, will begin Jan. 20 at Ford Motor Co.’s idled Wixom Assembly Plant in suburban Detroit. It’s based on a similar program MSU developed for Ford.


Firefighters are often first on the scene of someone caught in machinery – whether it’s a printing press, a snow groomer or an elevator. But firefighters who aren’t trained on proper extrication can cause further injury to the victim or even themselves, said Scott Tobey, program director and head of MSU’s Emergency Response Solutions.


An unknowing rescuer, for example, may attempt to run a machine in reverse when attempting to remove a victim’s arm or leg and hurt the victim worse, Tobey said.


"There are all kinds of machines you could get caught in. You could get caught in an elevator; you could even get caught in a copy machine,” Tobey said. “And if the firefighters don’t know how to get you out, you could be seriously injured."


Using mannequins, the training will cover the three basic ways to remove someone from a machine: cutting them out with tools such as a torch; disassembling the machine; or lifting and spreading the machine with a pneumatic device.


Ron Zawlocki, a program trainer and retired battalion chief with the Pontiac Fire Department, helped research and develop the machine-rescue program. He said he was surprised that he couldn’t find any formal training programs that exist across the country.


"The goal is to take this on a national scale," added Tobey, who’s also a criminal justice professor at MSU. "Although there may be a few training programs out there, they’re certainly not as comprehensive as this one."


In 2007, 16 workers died in machine-related deaths in Michigan, according to a report released last month by MSU’s Department of Medicine and the state Department of Labor and Economic Growth. For the five-year period ending 2007, there were 113 machine-related deaths – or 17 percent of all traumatic work-related fatalities.


"And the report doesn’t include all the nonfatal machine-related injuries like amputations," Tobey said.


Ford is donating the use of its Wixom plant and machinery for the training.


"This training has provided Ford Emergency Response Team members with life-saving skills, and we think this is something we should share with our friends in the fire service,” said Dave Small, a manufacturing safety engineer with Ford. 


While next week’s training session is full, there are future openings. The training lasts three days and is free. For more information contact MSU’s Jim Porter at (517) 881-3917 or




Michigan State University has been advancing knowledge and transforming lives through innovative teaching, research and outreach for more than 150 years. MSU is known internationally as a major public university with global reach and extraordinary impact.






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Scott Tobey, professor of criminal justice and director of MSU's Emergency Response Solutions. Photo by G.L. Kohuth

Scott Tobey, professor of criminal justice and director of MSU's Emergency Response Solutions. Photo by G.L. Kohuth

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