Hybrid Vehicle Emergencies

SUBJECT: Hybrid Vehicle Emergencies

TOPIC: 2010 Model-Year Toyota Prius Gasoline-Electric Hybrid

OBJECTIVE: Given a 2010-model Toyota Prius vehicle at a new-car dealership for inspection, the rescue team will study and be able to identify relevant vehicle occupant safety features and locate important components of the gasoline-electric hybrid system.

TASK: The rescue team shall develop operating guidelines for safely and efficiently managing a vehicle fire, injury collision, or entrapment emergency involving a 2010 model-year Toyota Prius vehicle.

The University of Extrication series has addressed the challenges of gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles in the past. This column serves as Part 1 in a series of updates on 2010 model-year hybrid vehicles and will focus on the latest model of the Prius hybrid, manufactured by the Toyota Motor Corp.

The 2010 model-year Toyota Prius is Toyota's third-generation Prius. This vehicle was introduced in showrooms in May 2009. Plans for production of approximately 10,000 vehicles per month along with consumer popularity of hybrids in general will quickly have this vehicle in many communities across this country. Toyota Motors has released a new Emergency Response Guide (ERG) that fully explains the features of this vehicle and details recommended actions for emergency responders to take when confronted with a Prius at an incident scene. Even though this University of Extrication column will bring attention to a few of the relevant features of this vehicle, studying the entire 2010 Prius ERG is highly recommended.

The 2010 model Prius hybrid is a 3,080-pound, four-door sedan with an aluminum hood and rear hatchback. Occupant protection includes frontal airbags, a driver's knee bag, airbags in both front seats and roof-mounted side-impact airbags. Exterior labels, called vehicle badging, that identify the vehicle as a hybrid are present on each front fender by the front-door hinges and along the rear lip of the hatchback. Inside the engine compartment, the Hybrid Synergy Drive logo on the plastic engine cover makes it obvious that the vehicle is a hybrid.

The 2010 Prius has several electrical systems; 12 volts, 27 volts, 201.6 volts and 650 volts. As with any gasoline-electric hybrid, the Prius has a standard 12-volt DC system. This battery is in the trunk, tucked in the right rear wheelwell.

Because it is a hybrid, the car also has a high-voltage electrical system powered by a 90-pound nickel metal hydride battery. The 2010 Prius high-voltage battery operates at 201.6 volts DC and is in the trunk, situated over the rear axle.

The 650-volt AC electrical system is contained within the engine compartment area. The inverter/converter unit there boosts and inverts the 201.6-volt DC current into three-phase AC electricity to power the electric motor that helps propel the vehicle.

The fourth electrical system is a new one that powers a system designed to provide a lower temperature inside the vehicle while the vehicle is parked in sunlight. If the Prius is equipped with this optional solar-powered ventilation system, there is a 27-volt DC electrical system integrated into the vehicle. Identified by having a dark tinted roof area behind the normal sunroof, the special solar panel generates DC current anytime sunlight strikes the panel. This power operates the air conditioning system's blower fan. At an incident scene, even with the vehicle turned off and the 12-volt battery disconnected, up to 60 watts of current will continue to flow in a wire running from the roof solar panel down through the driver's side C-pillar and side body panel to the rocker area. The only way to shut off this power is to completely cover the solar roof panel with a dark, heavy tarp cover.

Because of the electronic gearshift selector feature, responders inside the vehicle will not see a conventional column-mounted gear selector lever. Instead they will observe a short gear selector knob on the center console. At an emergency incident where the task is to simply assure that the vehicle is in Park, the responder should locate a separate button labeled with the letter "P" that is just above and to the left of the gear selector lever. Pressing this button engages the electro-mechanical parking brake system. There is also the common mechanical emergency brake pedal that can be pushed to set the rear emergency brakes.

Inside the vehicle, the now-familiar Toyota keyless ignition system is a standard feature. The occupant of the vehicle will have the remote key fob on their person; it may not be readily visible when you make patient contact at an incident. There is no ignition key cylinder on the column and no slot in the instrument panel to insert the Toyota Smart Key unit. The vehicle starts and shuts off by the push of the large "power" button along the right side of the column. Responders must realize that the inside rescuer must press the "power" button once to shut off the vehicle. The small LED light on the button will go out as will the green "ready" light in the center dashboard display area when the vehicle is shut down.

The 38-page Toyota ERG for this new Prius is filled with good, common sense suggestions and recommendations for dealing with a 2010 Prius emergency. A wise rescuer will study this guide closely and become familiar with the many features of the new Prius and how the vehicle can be efficiently and properly dealt with. A site visit to a local Toyota dealership that has a Prius available will greatly enhance your preparation for the challenges of a hybrid vehicle emergency.

TASK: The rescue team shall develop operating guidelines for safely and efficiently managing a vehicle fire, injury collision, or entrapment emergency involving a 2010 model-year Toyota Prius.

RON MOORE, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a battalion chief and the training officer for the McKinney, TX, Fire Department. He also authors a monthly online article in the Firehouse.com "MembersZone" and serves as the Forum Moderator for the extrication section of the Firehouse.com website. Moore can be contacted directly at Rmoore@firehouse.com.