The University of Extrication series covers three basic aspects of vehicle rescue training; vehicle "New Technology," extrication tool and equipment review, and practical skills evolutions. Subject: Univeristy of Extrication (U/E) serires Topic: Introduction and orientation to series...
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- Stabilize scene hazards: fire, fuel, wires down, hazmat, etc.
- Stabilize vehicle to prevent movement; block and chock.
- If safe to do so, utilize vehicle's electrical controls to:
- Take away electrical power by disconnecting or cutting negative ground cable near battery. This allows airbag system electrical storage capacitors to begin their "drain" down.
- Secure end of cable with duct or electrical tape to prevent re-establishing contact with any metal components.
- Remain clear of the inflation zone of each air bag if it were to deploy (Electrical storage capacitors present in an air bag system may allow the system to remain energized with reserve power from four seconds to over 20 minutes even though the battery has been disconnected.)
- Proceed with normal rescue and EMS activities.
The electrical system of the damaged vehicle should be shut down early in the extrication process. If rescuers disconnect or cut battery cables, exposed metal ends can potentially touch another metal component and re-establish an electrical circuit accidentally. Crucial to the procedure of shutting down a vehicle's electrical system is using electrical tape or duct tape to cover the fresh cut ends of the cable, insulating the exposed metal. Another technique is to cut out and remove a complete section of the battery cable leaving two short, stubby ends that cannot move to contact any other metal objects.
Safety considerations include reminding fire, rescue and EMS personnel that not all airbag restraint systems operate with electrical current to activate the deployment mechanisms. Mechanical airbag deployment systems found frequently on modern-day vehicles do not require electricity to function and remain a possible deployment concern throughout the entire extrication operation.
Awareness of component parts of an airbag system discovered inside a vehicle during rescue operations is important. Respect for the sensitive nature of these systems is also key to insuring rescuer safety at the accident scene. Dayton Rescue One Firefighter Tom Trimbach, who actually crushed the airbag sensor unit during the extrication effort, adds "There is no standardization to the SRS (airbag) units or the deactivation of those units. I think there is probably certain things we can do for all the vehicles. One of them is to disconnect the battery cables, both battery cables. That seems imperative in the training we've learned since the accident. Both cables need to be removed from the battery."
Trimbach also advises rescuers, "Another thing I've learned personally is at the time I saw the metal box on the console (of the Mitsubishi) it really didn't look unusual. Being placed in the position it was, it didn't seem to be anything real critical to be concerned with other than a wiring harness.
But if you look at it now...it's an unusual looking box with some heavy duty bright red wiring you don't normally see in a vehicle. And anything unusual from here on is going to get a little bit extra attention from me. That I think is probably the biggest lesson I learned. If it looks unusual it probably is unusual and it takes a little more caution if you're going to deal with that area."
Task: List procedures used by your department to safely shut down electrical power to an airbag system of a vehicle.
A 30-minute video documentary on the Dayton, OH, airbag incident is available from the Fire & Emergency Television Network (FETN). This exceptional training program contains interviews with responders involved in the incident and shows graphic video footage of the actual airbag deployment as shot by a local new media cameraman at the scene. Please contact FETN for further information on the Dayton airbag incident at: Carroll McCurry, regional manager, FETN, 800-955-6655, ext. 5270.