An Alaska extrication instructor writes, wanting to know if there is anything new regarding airbags and vehicle fires. Here's the question and my reply. Any of you out there have any other experiences to share?

Question:
Hi Ron, have a question that came up the other day didn't really have a answer, thought you might shed some light on this subject. If doing a vehicle fire drill with a newer vehicle, particularly the F250 Crew Cab pick up is there any chance of a explosion from any of the restraint/SRS devices in a fully involved situation? Have you ever heard of any thing happening like this. I appreciate any help in this matter.

My Reply:
According to the automotive engineers, the airbag inflator units will give "a loud report" when heated in excess of 330 degrees F. My experience with burning new vehicles for training purposes has been that at this temperature, the vehicle is in flashover. When an airbag auto-deploys, you hear the pop, see an extra puff of smoke, and the nylon simply melts away in the inferno.

That's what is supposed to happen.

The new Ford F-model pickups have that magnesium radiator housing. A fire in Orange Texas was attended by my friend Captain Elgin Browning. He reported nothing unusual about the fire although crews knew there was some magnesium burning when they got there. It went out when overwhelmed with water.

There is one NHTSA case study that showed a Dodge pickup incident where the driver's airbag module actually exploded and sent shrapnel out the windows of the vehicle.

The Bagbuster company has video of a Long Island car fire in a driveway where the driver's airbag module failed during a fire and blasted a part of it 150 feet away; right through the glass sunroof.

The pre-tensioners aren't compressed and the small internal fire box that is designed into them when heated would only fire like a cap gun. By then, the nylon seatbelt would already be melted away.

Full PPE, approach from the sides, uphill and upwind. Bring in a minimum 100gpm handline, sweep the undercarriage to cool the real 'bombs' that are on the vehicle, and be aggressive in your attack to cool this thing down quickly.