Battery and Electrical System Management

SUBJECT: Battery and Electrical System Management TOPIC: Battery Shutdown Protocol OBJECTIVE: The rescue team shall develop a set of standardized procedures for safe and effective shutdown of a fire or crash-damaged vehicles' electrical system based...


SUBJECT: Battery and Electrical System Management TOPIC: Battery Shutdown Protocol OBJECTIVE: The rescue team shall develop a set of standardized procedures for safe and effective shutdown of a fire or crash-damaged vehicles' electrical system based upon vehicle condition, position and...


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SUBJECT: Battery and Electrical System Management

TOPIC: Battery Shutdown Protocol

OBJECTIVE: The rescue team shall develop a set of standardized procedures for safe and effective shutdown of a fire or crash-damaged vehicles' electrical system based upon vehicle condition, position and situation so that the vehicle is safe and electrical hazards secured.

TASK: Given an acquired vehicle for training purposes, the rescuer team shall practice the various procedural steps listed in a new or revised electrical system shutdown protocol developed from this University of Extrication column.

The theme of vehicle batteries has appeared multiple times before in this University of Extrication series. We have addressed the challenge of trying to find a battery on a late-model vehicle, the fact that a vehicle can have multiple batteries, and we even looked at the concept of "power backfeeding"— a situation where an electronic device such as a computer or DVD player can feed it's electrical power back through critical components of the vehicle's electrical system even with the battery completely shut down.

This column is designed to give responding agencies the opportunity to develop a standard guideline or procedure for dealing with the electrical system on a crash-damaged (or fire-damaged) vehicle.

At a crash scene, there are various conditions that can be encountered. We know that not all vehicles involved in a crash are damaged the same way. A minor collision that you get called out to may have resulted in only minor vehicle damage and no injuries. That vehicle can be moved off the traveled roadway quickly to clear the highway and reduce exposure risk to personnel operating in or near moving traffic.

A major head-on collision may have people trapped when you pull up. You may arrive at a side-impact crash and find the car wrapped around a tree or bridge pillar. All these different conditions, positions and situations produce different resulting damage and affect procedures necessary to shut down the vehicle's electrical system. A policy describing the department's expectation for handling electrical systems can be based on this reality and written as a guideline that allows on-scene responders choices depending upon what they find when they arrive on the emergency scene.

Shutdown of a vehicle's electrical system used to be simple. Now, with today's complex vehicles and their engineered multiplex electrical systems, the process is a bit more involved if it is to be done correctly. Electrical system management involves a series of decisions, assessments and actions based on the conditions, positions and situation found on arrival. The three fundamental strategies include leaving all cables intact and doing nothing with the battery; disconnecting the battery cables in a non-destructive manner; or double-cutting all battery cables to completely take the battery out of the electrical circuit. Once it has been decided which action is appropriate, then the tactics can begin.

The following is an excerpt from a model standard operating procedure (SOP) written by this author for electrical system management at vehicle rescue incidents:

"Engine company crew is responsible for initial control of all existing or potential fire and safety hazards present at the emergency scene including control of moving traffic around the crash scene work area.

It shall be a standard practice of the engine company crew to deploy one portable dry chemical fire extinguisher. A minimum of one 1¾-inch fire safety handline with a minimum flow capability of 100 gpm shall be deployed at the discretion of the officer in charge, when a fuel leak/spill is present, or when extrication tasks are conducted.

Engine company personnel are responsible for initial stabilization of the damaged vehicles, electrical system management of all damaged vehicles and controlling any other hazards that are present now or may be present throughout the duration of the incident.

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