Vehicle Stabilization Weight Loss

Rescue officers and personnel must be trained to recognize that stabilization of a vehicle is necessary to some degree at every vehicle rescue incident. Departmental guidelines or protocols must support this by specifically listing vehicle stabilization...


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Rescue officers and personnel must be trained to recognize that stabilization of a vehicle is necessary to some degree at every vehicle rescue incident. Departmental guidelines or protocols must support this by specifically listing vehicle stabilization as an essential task to accomplish at a crash scene. It really should be the responsibility of the engine company assigned to the first-due crew to accomplish.

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Photo By Ron Moore
Removal of window glass, both passenger side doors, the B-pillar, and now the roof reduced the “load” on this Ford Taurus’ suspension by 237 pounds. Removal of the front seat passenger accounted for another 135 pounds of weight loss. Unless all tires are deflated, the stabilization cribbing and stepchocks will loosen and become ineffective.

If the crash resulted in injuries and no extrication work on the vehicle will be required, the vehicle should, at a minimum, be chocked and blocked, especially on the side out of which the patient will be longboarded. If you arrive at a hard-impact collision where it is apparent that one or more doors are jammed and door opening/removal or sidewall, roof or dash/firewall tasks are anticipated, then full stabilization must be accomplished without question.

A damaged vehicle sitting on its tires on a level surface is not stable until it is chocked and blocked and the tires are deflated. There seems to be a general reluctance of rescue personnel to deflate tires on a damaged vehicle as part of full stabilization work. There is a feeling that deflating tires causes unnecessary or “excessive damage” to a person’s vehicle and “those are nice-looking tires anyway!” Stories circulate among fire departments of police officers insisting that the air must remain in the tires so they can conduct their post-crash investigation. Tire pressure is not needed for accident-scene reconstruction. Fear that tow-truck operators will complain – “If the fire department blows the air out of the tires, then I can’t tow it; I have to put it on a flatbed” – seems to override the reality that tire deflation is a fundamental element of effective vehicle stabilization.

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Photo By Ron Moore
A damaged vehicle sitting on its tires on a level surface should not be considered stable until at least one wheel has been chocked, adequately strong points of the vehicle blocked, and all tires deflated.

The easiest way to prove to personnel within your department that the air must be removed from inflated tires as part of vehicle stabilization is to conduct an extrication “weight loss” drill using the chart shown below. Obtain a four-door vehicle and arrange for a crew of personnel with tools and equipment to perform basic extrication tasks on the vehicle. Bring a common bathroom scale to the drill site along with a grocery-store paper or plastic bag. You’ll be weighing the individual components that come off the vehicle to see how much weight loss your car undergoes as standard extrication tasks are performed.

Begin the demonstration drill with the acquired vehicle sitting on its inflated tires on a level surface. Task one team of rescuers to stabilize the vehicle using standard departmental stabilization protocols, but for the purposes of the demo leave the air in all the tires. If a stepchock won’t exactly fit snug, either turn it over, converting it into a giant wedge, or place a single piece of cribbing under it until contact with the vehicle is made. If individual cribbing pieces are used instead of stepchocks, assure that the fit of the box crib is snug by employing wedges. Get everyone participating in the drill to agree that the cribbing and/or stepchocks are snug.

Now the extrication weight loss begins. Remove all side and rear windows. Try to collect as much glass as possible from the vehicle. If you can, place all the broken glass in the paper or plastic bag you brought to the drill and weigh it on your bathroom scale. Each door’s tempered glass window will probably weigh about four pounds. Record the total weight for all the glass you collect on your weight loss chart.

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