Small Car Rescue Challenges, Part 2

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SUBJECT:

TOPIC: 2008 BMW Mini Cooper

OBJECTIVE: Given information about the 2008 BMW Mini Cooper vehicle, rescuers will be able to explain the safety features of the vehicle and how they influence medical and rescue activities at a crash scene.

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

Our series on the rescue challenges of small cars continues with a rescuer's look at the BMW Mini Cooper. This small automobile comes in a two-door or four-door body style. The most common Mini Cooper design is the two-door version, with an overall length of just over 12 feet and a height of 55 inches. The vehicle, weighing approximately 2,460 pounds, has seating for four occupants.

Passive safety equipment of interest to responders includes dual-stage, dual- threshold frontal airbags. These "SMART" airbags constantly monitor front-occupant seat position, seatbelt use, and impact severity and adjust airbag deployment accordingly. These modern airbag systems present the reality of encountering a second undeployed charge remaining in an already deployed airbag. Responders must respect the airbag inflation zones of all airbags, deployed or not. With the increased likelihood of encountering dual-stage airbags, we must remember that a deployed airbag could trigger a second time. Use the same safety precautions as if the airbag had not deployed.

For side-impact airbag protection, the Mini has torso airbags mounted on the outboard edges of both front seatbacks. A shirt tag-style airbag ID is very visible along the seam of the seat upholstery. The Mini also has two full-length roof-mounted airbags, one on each side, that deploy to protect the front and rear seat occupants. These airbags use high-pressure stored-gas inflators. Each roof airbag stored-gas inflator is at the end of a long metal tube that extends deep into the side panel of the Mini. The 4,000-psi inflator unit sits inside this sidewall, just above the rear tire and wheelwell area. This location is important for responders to note because with persons trapped in the rear seat of a two-door Mini, rescue personnel could encounter a charged stored-gas inflator while completing a three-door sidewall evolution.

One safety item that BMW boasts about is the Mini's "ultra-rigid" body. The skeletal structure of the vehicle has been specially engineered to protect the occupants during a collision. All structural components that make up the "cage" surrounding the occupants are tied together and reinforced at specific points to provide overall strength and rigidity. Typical of other BMW vehicles, the engine uses a "break-away" design. During a frontal impact, the engine breaks free of its mounts and slides underneath the passenger compartment to avoid crushing into the front seat occupants.

These active restraint elements including the seatbelt pretensioners and the airbags are controlled by the airbag "brain" mounted on the center floor hump beneath the carpeting. The direction of an impact and its severity are determined by crash sensors housed in the B-pillars and by a sensor inside the "brain." The determination is instantly made as to which appropriate restraint and safety system to deploy.

With frontal airbag deployment, all doors unlock, the dome light comes on, and the four-way hazard flashers begin blinking. The BMW Safety Terminal also fires off, disconnecting power from the battery to the starter. At the same time, the electric fuel pump automatically shuts down.

The extremely stiff passenger cell design must be working. All crash tests conducted in the United States and in Europe have reached the same conclusion. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), a nonprofit research and communications organization funded by auto insurers, concluded that there would most likely be low risk of injury to a driver's neck, chest and both legs in a 40-mph offset frontal crash conducted on the Mini. The new Mini's passive safety system received the highest possible score in the European New Car Assessment Program crash testing. In the Euro NCAP Crash Test of a new 2007 Mini Cooper, engineers stated that the risk of injury to occupants of the new MINI Cooper was deemed very small indeed in all cases.

Also of interest to rescue personnel is the door design of the four-door model Mini Cooper recently offered in the U.S. This longer-length Mini is equipped with rear-hinged doors, with no B-pillar when both front and rear doors are open. The rear of the bigger Mini has a split rear door, swing-open design.

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

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