Extrication Tactics For "Energized" Vehicles

SUBJECT: Electrical System Shutdown

TOPIC: Extrication Tactics for "Energized" Vehicles

OBJECTIVE: Given a scenario involving a person trapped in a vehicle that has its battery located inside the passenger compartment, the rescue team will develop a plan for completing extrication work while also managing the vehicle's electrical system safety challenges.

TASK: Using an acquired vehicle for a simulation involving the department's rescue equipment in a hands-on drill, the rescue team will demonstrate special tactics for dealing with an entrapment situation involving a vehicle with a fully energized electrical system.

It is simply a reality for all of us that we will respond to a vehicle incident sooner or later where we find a person trapped. According to national statistics, three injury-producing vehicle crashes occur in the United States every minute of every day, so chances are high that the "people trapped" call will come in.

This University of Extrication column takes this incident one step further. This month, we look at what teams can do when there is a person trapped but the vehicle they are trapped in has its 12-volt battery located somewhere deep within the passenger compartment. What do you do? The vehicle's electrical accessories could be completely energized. Do you have a plan on what you will do if extrication is needed before the battery can even be accessed?

It is agreed by all that the ideal situation at a crash scene where extrication work is going to be conducted is to have the vehicle's electrical system completely shut down early in the incident. Having the battery completely disconnected just makes things a lot safer for everyone — the rescuer and the patient especially. However, what about when the battery is not under the hood like we commonly find and it isn't in the trunk either? What about the situation where the vehicle's battery is located under a seat inside the car, for example?

One such example of the "battery under seat" design is General Motors' Buick automobiles. A large percentage of them have their battery located inside the passenger compartment. The Buick LeSabre, for example, has its 12-volt battery mounted under the passenger's side of the rear seat cushion. Talk about a Catch-22 situation: With people trapped, you may have to force entry into the car to make it safe to force entry into the car. Think about it. That's not a typo; it could be a reality.

Here's a scenario to consider. A Buick with three occupants takes a passenger-side hit broadside and both doors on the impact side jam. The B-pillar crushes inward and the adult riding in the rear seat is trapped as is the front-seat passenger. All three occupants are inside when you arrive and their injuries are significant.

At the crash scene, you are the crew assigned to electrical system shutdown. You stabilize the vehicle and force the hood open. No battery. Someone says to try the trunk. You can't remove the key from the ignition so you force the trunk open. Still no battery to be found. Now what? You check the front wheelwell areas for the battery, probe along the front bumper cover but no battery. It can only be one other place: inside the car. But that's where the patients are and the doors are jammed, limiting your access. Now what do you do?

Tactical Plan

Rescue officers and their extrication teams should have a tactical plan already in place on how this type of incident will be handled. This author refers to it as "hot" vehicle extrication; hot meaning that the electrical system is fully energized. It is really a unique challenge for the crew and your options are somewhat limited. Yes, you want to shut down the electrical system, but in this specific situation, you might not be able to as soon as you normally would. Plan for the situation where extrication work must be done with the vehicle essentially fully energized. How will you do each of your extrication tasks with a "hot" car?

Although getting our hands on the battery is what we really want, let's think about what we might be able to do without having access to the battery. Every extrication leader should have this list of tactical considerations that can be accomplished for "hot" extrication work in the back of his or her mind. The more items on this list that can be accomplished, the better your chances of not having a problem as you rip the fully energized vehicle apart.

Never give up on wanting to get the electrical system shut down. It might not happen as early into your rescue as you want it to, but make it happen sooner rather than later. Plan out your rescue work so access to the battery can be accomplished soon into the incident.

With the Buick in our scenario, for example, once the rear-seat patient is extricated, a crew should be assigned to be inside the car ripping the rear seat cushion out and shutting down the power at the battery.

Although we don't like to think about it and we never consider it the safest thing to do, performing full-blown extrication work on a vehicle that has its electrical system fully energized is a reality that we may encounter on our next call. Work out your "hot" car extrication tactics in advance so your encounter with a vehicle having its battery inside the passenger compartment won't be a real shocking experience for you.

TASK: Using an acquired vehicle for a simulation involving the department's rescue equipment in a hands-on drill, the rescue team will demonstrate special tactics for dealing with an entrapment situation involving a vehicle with a fully energized electrical system.

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.