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Odd Rescues Revisited: Child Stuck in a Swing

Aug 18, 2023

The Rescue Company | By Mark Gregory

It has been another busy morning for your truck company. After several runs for emergencies and morning building inspection, it's now time your firefighters to sit down for lunch. As you go to take your first bite of the engine's latest culinary delight, the tone alert goes off, signaling yet another run. Saved by the bell! This time, you are being special called to the local school playground to assist with a "child stuck in a swing."

Every year, thousands of kids and adults get stuck in playground swings. Common reasons include morbid obesity of the patient and, quite simply, being "too big for the swing." This article will focus on various tactics you can employ to disentangle your victim from the predicament.

On arrival, parks personnel direct you to the swing area. Several bystanders on scene have been providing psychological first aid to keep the young victim calm. As the truck company officer, your size-up should include the age and size of the victim, the type of swing involved, and methods available to you for disentanglement.

Psychological first aid can change the demeanor of your patients and help in getting their cooperation. Victims, especially young children, will be scared on the arrival of first responders and their cache of rescue equipment. Older victims (teenagers and adults) will be embarrassed and upset that they are unable to free themselves. Efforts to self-extricate may have caused additional difficulties such as the swelling of an extremity. Advise your victims that you have dealt with these types of incidents before and that you will take several noninvasive steps to extract them from the swing.

Simplicity is the key to success. As you size up the job, size up what items nearby can assist you. The first step in removing a victim from a swing should be to take the pressure off the limb. In most parks, a trash can will be within proximity of the swing sets. Have a member retrieve it and turn it upside down. Lift the victim up and place the can under him so he can stand on it (photo 1). This will allow the leg to constrict. If you don't have a trash can, simply use a firefighter "on all fours" or two firefighters with their thighs forming a makeshift platform to support the victim (photo 2).

(1) Photos by author.


Many online videos show would-be rescuers trying to lift the victim out of the swing. The problem with this tactic is that they are not getting the upper thigh to constrict and are basically fighting against the loose flesh of the victim. Once the victim stands on the can, he may be able to simply "wiggle out" of the swing. If this does not work, rescuers may need to manipulate the flesh of the victim by hand. When performing this action, verbalize your upcoming actions to the victim so that he can hear and understand. In today's world, all our actions, no matter how well-intentioned, will be scrutinized by others (especially on social media sites) as possibly being inappropriate. Verbally advising the victim allows your intentions for disentanglement to be known by all and provides the victim with a play-by-play of what will be occurring.

If manipulation does not work, you may need to take the swing down for disentanglement. You may be able to unhook it or remove the bolts (photo 3) from their attachment points at the top bracket. As a last resort, you can use bolt cutters to cut down the swing's chains. Ensure you have secured the weight of your victim. A combination or A-frame-type ladder can assist your crew in reaching the top brackets of the swing for removal.


Once you have removed the swing, lay the victim on the ground. Once again, you can try manipulation methods or a lubricant such as a mild soap or surgical lubricant to aid the victim in easing out of the swing. You can use medical shears to cut away clothing to aid in reducing the victim's profile.

If all the noninvasive techniques do not work, the only choice is to use a tool to remove the swing from the victim. To accomplish this, consider the design of the swing. Most public park swings are either a formed plastic or a rubberized bucket-type swing. The formed plastic (photo 4) is a thick plastic swing that is hollow in its core.

We have had great success in removing victims using a "homemade rope saw" that we carry in our Man vs. Machinery Kit. The rope saw (photo 5) is comprised of two wooden dowels and a six-foot section of commercial-grade string from a string weed trimmer. The dowels have three holes drilled in each to weave the string through and provide support (photo 6). The string is secured through the use of a half hitch knot.




Another variation of this tool is using 3⁄16-inch wire rope with looped handles to hold while cutting (photo 7). When using the rope saw, adjust it so that the saw is within arm's length of the operator (photo 8). A rescuer with shorter arms may need to take the slack up on the string and resecure the half hitch knot to arm's length. Slide the saw in between the victim and the swing material. Apply slow, long strokes to cut the swing without generating heat. Rapid, short sawing techniques will cause fatigue in the operator and will cause the saw to heat up and snap.



The rubberized bucket-type swing is similar in form to the formed plastic swing (photo 9). This swing generally has a metal band that is embedded within the rubberized band material. You can use the rope saw to cut down toward this band. Then, once you reach it, you can use tin snips, preferably angled snips, to easily cut through the band. The benefit of using the rope saw over just using the tin snips is that you will have easy access to the metal band without any "binding issues."


Another method that has been proven successful is cutting the side rivets that hold the swing together. A battery-powered right-angle grinder or Dremel-type tool can aid you with this process. Once you cut and remove the rivet heads, you can open the swing to disentangle the victim.

"10-Minute Drills" are essential to the success of our personnel. Take the time to visit a park or school playground within your response district. Familiarizing yourself with the playground equipment today will reap successful results tomorrow.

Mark D. Gregory has more than 37 years of firefighting experience and is the captain of Fire Department of New York (FDNY) Ladder Company 176. Previously, he was a captain in Division 15 and 13, a lieutenant in Tower Ladder 111, and a firefighter in Brooklyn's Rescue 2 and Ladder 132. He instructs for the FDNY Academy as an Annual Education Day, Flashover, and Extrication instructor. He also instructs at the Suffolk County (NY) Fire Academy and is the lead instructor for FDIC International's "Man vs. Machinery" hands-on training class, which is taught by P.L. Vulcan Fire Training Concepts LLC.

Mark D. Gregory will present "Man vs. Machinery" at FDIC International in Indianapolis, Indiana, on Monday, April 24, and Tuesday, April 25, 2023, 8:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m.

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