Cutting Through a Roof Airbag
Questions and discussion continues to come up regarding roof cutting tasks as they relate to roof airbags. What can you cut? What can't you? Where can you cut? Where can't you?
I find it a bit unbelievable but there is at least one national-level vehicle rescue instructor, who also happens to be a rescue tool salesman, who tells his students that he cuts stored gas roof inflators and they really aren't a problem. Maybe there are other local-level instructors who feel the same; or worse yet cut through inflators in front of students. Nothing I would ever do and something I do not support any instructor doing.
I object to this just as much as I object to taking an airbag out of a vehicle and deploying it in front of the students. Check out YouTube if you want to see how idiots have injured and nearly killed their friends in airbag deployment pranks.
When asked about roof cutting at an entrapment scene, I stick to these few guidelines listed below;
Do not cut into a stored gas inflator under any circumstances! Pressures range from 4,000psi to upwards of 11,400psi so they are nothing to mess with.
Yes, you can cut below a roof inflator if the location of the inflator allows enough room to work. The entire undeployed roof airbag unit could be removed as the roof is taken off.
Yes, you can cut into an undeployed roof airbag positioned along a roofline if you really have to; just the folded nylon material section.
Yes, you can cut through any tubing that connects the stored gas inflator to the folded airbag. The tubing is not under pressure and is not part of any triggering system for the roof airbag to deploy.
Yes, you should strip the trim at EVERY cut you make to make sure you are at a safe location; there is a strong possibility that there may be two inflators per side of the vehicle (four roof airbags total)
This artist rendering below is good as a visual to use as you talk through this issue. If occupants were trapped inside this vehicle and you were assigned total roof removal, you can see where your cutting locations options are; below the inflator, through the inflator tubing, or into the folded roof airbag. You can see how by stripping the trim you would see the inflator and be able to work around it.