Technology Update: 2003-2004 Vehicles – Part 2

SUBJECT: 2003-2004 Model Vehicles, Part 2 of 2 TOPIC: New Technology Features Update OBJECTIVE: Update responder awareness of new technology features of selected 2003 and 2004 model year vehicles...


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The teaching point is that a responder making patient contact through the passenger’s side door will not see a seat airbag ID because there isn’t one. This may lead to the assumption that there are no side-impact airbags in the vehicle at all. Wrong! With these vehicles, you’ll have to recognize this challenge and scan the driver’s side to see the airbag ID.

Dual-Stage Frontal Airbags

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Photo by Ron Moore
Dual-stage airbags will not be identified or appear any differently than conventional airbags whether they are loaded or deployed.

Some advertise it, some don’t, but there are a huge number of 2003 and 2004 models out there with dual-deployment or dual-stage frontal airbags. These systems contain two “charges” inside each airbag inflator module; one big and one small. Depending upon factors such as the speed of the vehicle at the moment of collision and whether the front seat occupants are or are not belted, the airbag will fire off one or both charges. Yes, that means that even a deployed airbag can now fire a second time while you’re inside attending to your patient or ripping the car apart. You just can’t trust any airbag anymore, not even a deployed one!

The Boron Steel Reinforced Roof Structure

Volvo’s brand new 2003 SUV, the XC-90, is provided with an industry first, a Rollover Protection System with a Boron steel-reinforced roof structure. We’ve dealt with boron steel for several years in vehicles. The Volvo door collision beams have been this way since the mid-1990s. It is a high-strength, low-alloy metal that is extremely resistant to cutting. Many hydraulic power rescue tools will not cut through this type of steel. Reciprocating saws, even with the best blades available, can’t even scratch this stuff. Roof evolutions such as flapping or total removal may not be possible on this vehicle. Do you have a tool to cut boron?

No Airbag ID!

I knew it had to happen sooner or later; I was shocked to have such a safety-oriented manufacturer be the first. The first vehicle has arrived in the United States that has an airbag system without any airbag ID. It’s the Volvo XC-90 SUV we’ve just been talking about. It has tons of safety equipment designed into it as mentioned previously, but what is unique is that for the first time, a roof airbag system is installed and there is absolutely no roof airbag ID anywhere in or on the vehicle. The new teaching point that this brings to the table is the reality that now there may be an airbag without any ID. Beware!

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Photo by Ron Moore
A view of the headliner inside the Volvo XC-90 SUV shows that there is no roof airbag ID anywhere on the vehicle.

TASK: Given selected 2003 and 2004 vehicles, identify critical safety-related features and describe how the presence of these new features influences fire, rescue or medical procedures at vehicle crash or fire scenes.


Ronald E. 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.