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21 April 2014 07:50:25 PDT (GMT -7)

 
Misc.: Rescuers Concerned About New Auto Technology
 
Engine101 writes " Air bags and combined electric and gas systems in hybrid cars make extrication a daunting task for firefighters.

By Jia-Rui Chong, Times Staff Writer

As smoke curled from the dashboard of a BMW in Inglewood, a firefighter reached to turn off the ignition. He didn't know the fire was shorting out wires to the air bag.

The bag punched him in the face at 200 mph, giving him a concussion, bruises and cuts.



"We were caught unaware because the vehicle was just sitting there," said Marc Scott, a Los Angeles County firefighter and paramedic who trains rescue workers. "We'd seen [air bags] go off in fires, but this was not much of a fire, just a small little smoldering."

The incident demonstrated the new dangers rescue workers face as manufacturers outfit cars with fancier technology, firefighters said. Unfamiliar gizmos, the placement of air bags in new locations and the complicated electric-gas systems in hybrid cars have become particular concerns to rescuers trying to extricate people.

"You have to really think about what you're doing now," said Pasadena Fire Capt. Harry Crusberg, a 25-year veteran. "You have to systematically take a car apart. In the old days, you could cut hinges and wires and move on and not worry."

Air bags inflating and seat belts suddenly tightening have broken firefighters' fingers, knocked out teeth and, in one case, caused internal bleeding.

"In the last six years, air bags have really gotten out of control," Scott said. "New cars can have up to 12 different air bag systems ? and pyrotechnic charges that are set off by rocket fuel."

"Always in the past, firefighters were taught to cut the posts low so there are not sharp objects sticking in the air," said Santa Barbara County Firefighter Gary Wright, who teaches classes that include where and where not to cut. Now, if rescuers cut low on the post between the front and back doors, "you'll cut through the explosive seat belt protectors."

Firefighters said their departments were requesting more information from auto makers about these systems. The departments are also issuing more bulletins to rescue workers, telling them, for instance, to stay 10 to 20 inches away from possible air bag locations.

Hybrid systems, which connect an electric motor to a gasoline engine, also worry some firefighters. About 130,000 hybrid passenger cars have been sold in the U.S. since their introduction in 1999. Several new hybrid cars and SUVs are due out in the coming year.

"The batteries are the main things for us," Crusberg said. "They're full of ? all types of different chemicals we're not totally sure of yet because they're new."

Hybrid cars have nickel metal hydride batteries, whereas regular cars use lead acid batteries. And there are more batteries in a hybrid car, spanning the rear from side to side.

Firefighters say they also worry about the electrical cables between the motor and the engine. A typical household current of 110 volts, which powers toasters and hair dryers, can electrocute a person. A hybrid can carry 500 volts.

The silence of the electric motor can be deceiving for a rescuer, said Francis Dunigan, a spokesman for Holmatro, a company that makes hydraulic rescue equipment and publishes a guide for emergency responders on vehicle safety systems.

"When you walk up to hybrid vehicles involved in a crash, if you don't hear the engine running or exhaust coming out the pipe, that doesn't mean it's not capable of taking off any second," he said. "If a patient moves or hits the accelerator, it could take off and run over the rescuer or apparatus."

Scott said the "biggest problem is that you can't tell it's a hybrid vehicle." Electric vehicles no longer look as "goofy" as their earlier incarnations, he said. "On the Honda Civic, it says 'hybrid' on it, but otherwise you don't know."

Toyota spokeswoman Nancy Hubbell said the auto maker went to "great lengths" to ensure the safety of rescue workers around hybrid cars by consulting with extrication experts and providing Internet handbooks tailored for emergency workers.

Toyota has colored the electrical cables bright orange and encased them in metal. The lines run under the floor pan, 18 inches in from the driver's-side door sill, where rescuers are unlikely to cut, Hubbell said.

The hybrid also automatically shuts off current when air bags activate, she said.

"In the very unlikely case you need to get anywhere near those lines, make sure you wait five minutes to do it," Hubbell said.

The Los Angeles County Fire Department has begun more comprehensive training because of these new technologies, Scott said. In a few months, he will help with the first department-wide training session that will address all safety systems as well as hybrid cars.

He met with Toyota a week ago for updated information and will meet with other companies planning hybrids. "I'm going to Ford and Nissan and Honda as well," he said. "Whoever's coming out with the latest, we will have to go to all of them." "
Posted on Friday, June 04, 2004 @ 22:13:13 PDT by adminfire
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