Small Car Rescue Challenges - Part 1

SUBJECT: Small Car Rescue Challenges -- Part 1 Topic: 2008 Smart Fortwo OBJECTIVE: Given information about the 2008 Smart Fortwo vehicle, rescuers will be able to explain the safety features of the vehicle and how they influence medical and...


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The nine-gallon fuel tank is mounted under the vehicle and occupies most of the center floorpan area. An inertia switch stops the fuel supply in the event of a crash and the electric door locks automatically unlock as the collision occurs.

Tridion Safety Cell

Although real-world crash experience is still very limited with this new vehicle, crash testing has revealed a very significant design strategy that will influence what responders find as they arrive at a Smart car crash incident. The occupants ride within a steel cage that DaimlerChrysler calls the Fortwo's tridion safety cell. The structural steel components of this protective cage distribute impact energy evenly over the car's entire body during a collision. Portions of the special tridion safety cell consist of ultra high-strength steel. This metal is the toughest we can encounter during extrication incidents and includes the A-pillar on both the hardtop and the convertible and the rollbar on the convertible model.

At the rear of the car, a rear "crash box" of aluminum will crumple upon impact. The wheels and axles also take on the function of crumple zones for both frontal and rear collisions.

During recent frontal crash testing conducted at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's research facility in Virginia, engineers documented a test result for the Smart Fortwo that is significant enough for responders to be aware of. In the 40-mile-per-hour frontal collision into a stationary barrier, Institute President Adrian Lund stated "We recorded a high head acceleration when the driver dummy's head hit the steering wheel through the frontal airbag." For responders, this indicates that the Institute's test dummy used up all of the available ride down room in the Smart's seatbelt system and interior space as the crash occurred. EMS responders: take note.

The crash-test engineers also noted that during the collision, the driver's door unlatched. This also occurred during side-impact crash testing conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. At the Institute, researchers report that the opening of the door did not appear to affect dummy movement during their test. The challenge of having a door latch system that releases unintentionally during frontal or side collisions is that it could allow partial or complete occupant ejection, especially if the occupant is unrestrained.

Side Impacts

For side-impact collision management, each door has a collision beam installed. When another vehicle is colliding with the For-two, due to the Smart's short 73.5-inch wheelbase, the other car will very likely hit an axle. That wheel, tire and axle being struck is another aspect of the vehicle's crashworthiness because these items are connected to structural members that help absorb the impact.

Responders should also note that all Smart Fortwo models are equipped with an electronic recording device; what we commonly refer to as the "Black Box." The device will record data that can help diagnose vehicle systems after a collision. One of the criteria under which the manufacturer is willing to access the information and share it with others is in response to an official request by law enforcement or other government agency. Just something to think about.

TASK: The rescue team shall list and describe the design features and safety systems of the Fortwo and explain the influence each feature or design has on anticipated fire, safety, medical, or extrication procedures at a Smart car incident.

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.