In much of the United States the local fire department has become responsible for providing rescue, in some areas this is handled by the local police or Sheriff's department or a combination of all of the above.

While there are no nationwide standards defining the levels of rescue, these pictures give an idea of how much rescue equipment you can expect to find on rescue vehicles.

Hydraulic rescue tools better known to the public as "The jaws of life" have become a common feature at vehicle accidents. These were originally invented for auto racing but quickly found use in the emergency services.

Air tools are also common to see in use at vehicle accidents or a building collapse. Air chisels are used to cut away sheet metal or chip away concrete, air powered ratchets can be used to disassemble machinery, pneumatic struts can be used to brace trenches or collapsed buildings and air bags are used to lift heavy objects. 

With the wide use of generators and powerful cordless battery powered tools, electric saws and drills are becoming very popular. 

Ropes and litter baskets have been in commonly used in rescue for many years.

Cribbing blocks are primarily used to stabilize objects including vehicles, heavy machinery and partially collapsed buildings.

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Basic rescue equipment

This shows the minimum level of equipment that should be carried on apparatus that may participate in rescue operations. This is typical of most pumpers.

Light rescue equipment

This shows the the minimum level of equipment that should be carried to be considered a light rescue. This level is typical of many ladder trucks.

Medium rescue equipment

This shows the minimum level of equipment that should be carried on a medium rescue.

Heavy rescue equipment

This shows the minimum amount of equipment that should be carried to qualify as a heavy rescue. Many heavy rescue trucks carry much more than this.

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Hydraulic combination tool

This is a combination cutting and spreading tool.

Hydraulic combination tool

This is another combination tool.

Hydraulic combination tool

And another combination tool.

Hydraulic cutter

This is a cutting tool, while not as versatile as the combination tool it can cut much larger pieces or metal.

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Hydraulic spreader

This is a spreading tool, it can spread thicker metal and spreads much further than a combination tool.

Hydraulic spreader 

This is another spreading tool.

Hydraulic rams

Rams are used to push objects apart.

Hydraulic ram

Close up of a ram.

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Hydraulic power unit

Hydraulic tools require a pump to function. This is a small gas powered unit capable of operating one tool. 

Hydraulic power unit 

Another view of the power unit.

Hydraulic power unit 

This is a larger gas powered unit capable of operating two tools simultaneously.

Hydraulic power unit 

Another view of the power unit.

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Hydraulic power unit 

This is a small power unit for hydraulic tools.

Hydraulic line reels

Hydraulic tools require lines for the hydraulic fluid to flow through. These are powered reels usually mounted on a vehicle.

Hydraulic line reel

Close up of reel.

Mounted hydraulic rescue tools

This shows a nicely organized vehicle mount with two hydraulic line reels, a power unit and an electrical cord reel.

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Air bags

Airbags are used to lift heavy objects a few inches at a time.

Air bag

Close up of a medium size air bag.

Air cart

This is an air cart used to power air tools or supply breathing air (more under breathing support).

Air cart

Air cart with a cover.

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Air chisel

Air chisels are lighter and easier to use than hydraulic tools making them a better choice for some tasks.

Air chisel case

Tool box for air chisel set.

Air chisel

This is a heavy duty air chisel.

Air chisel case

Storage case for air chisel.

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Pneumatic strut

Pneumatic struts such as this are helpful for stabilizing collapsed buildings or trenches.

Reciprocating saw and case

Reciprocating saws are used for cutting metal and wood. They are lightweight and don't produce exhaust making them useful in confined areas. 

Reciprocating saw

This is a cordless reciprocating saw

Reciprocating saw case
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Stokes basket

The stokes basket is used for moving a patient out of an inaccessible area. It can be used to carry a patient up a slope or hoist them up a cliff with ropes.

Stokes basket

This is another style of stokes basket.

Stokes basket

Another view.


Miller board

This is a spinal immobilization board useful for water rescues or for getting a patient out of tight spaces.

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Rope bags Rope bag Rope bag detail Rope rescue bag
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Rope rescue equipment

Various hardware and software for rope rescue. 

Rope rescue detail

Hardware for rope rescue. Anchor plate, carabiners, brake bar rack and belay system.

Rope rescue harness

Class 3 harness for rope rescue.

Rope roller

Rope rollers are used to help rope go over corners.

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Webbing and carabiners Carabiners Tripod

This is a folding tripod used for a variety of rescue situations.

Tripod in use

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Cribbing is used to support vehicles or collapsed buildings. Wood is a popular material because it is cheap, strong and readily available.

Synthetic Step chock

Cribbing can be made of wood or plastic. This is an example of a plastic step chock.


The come along is a simple winch useful in many rescue situations.

Assorted rescue equipment

This is an example of how much equipment can be carried on a light rescue.


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