You can imagine the fear of the relatives of the racing drivers at the thought of their loved one trapped in his cockpit after an accident on the racecourse. Thus nowadays racecourses all have special extraction teams trained and ready to act in emergency situations – and pull the “pilot” out to safety. They have to be ready to deal with fire, burning fuel, gas and be first responders in emergency medical situations – even heart attacks or breathing difficulties.
It’s a huge responsibility and takes specialized training and repeated practice – because every second counts. The extraction operation has to be surgically precise and as fast as lightning. And talking of lightning, in Formula E there is a serious risk of electrocution while performing a rescue.
Did you know that Monaco is exceptional in that these rescues are specially assigned to Monaco’s fire brigade? This tradition goes way back linked to their duties within the city-state. It’s a responsibility they carry out with pride. And their mastery of the technique is acknowledged internationally.
For the Formula E race they have even mastered freeing the pilot with a unique technique to deal with the additional deadly risk of electrocution by the 800 volts and 425 amps propelling the vehicle. Instant death if they were to miscalculate – so they come well-prepared!
They rush in with an insulating blanket that is swept over the surface of the vehicle that they must lean on while freeing the pilot. It will withstand a fire of 900 degrees centigrade and absorb harmful chemicals.
The fireman themselves look like surgeons with huge red rubberized insulating gloves and similar giant yellow insulating booties. A scene from a movie on a radio-active nuclear disaster comes to mind.
Practice makes perfect and the racing drivers offer themselves as real “live-ammo” victims. Sam Bird of Virgin Racing is one of them. The only difference to the real thing is he is sporting a big smile through the whole extraction operation.
And it’s quite an operation: there’s medical prevention involved keeping the driver’s head in line with his neck and trunk using a cervical collar. Then there’s the safety harness to unhook, the driving wheel to unlock – all the while encumbered by the car’s halo. It takes a whole team acting in unison with precision – and Monaco’s firemen are the aces that can be relied upon to do it perfectly.
Which means that if Sam Bird were in a real accident, that much more likely his life would be saved and he would still be beaming that big smile from ear to ear.