By Janelle Foskett
Published Thursday, August 30, 2012
| From the September 2012 Issue of FireRescue
It seems like everywhere you look these days, there’s a new report about hybrid vehicles and how they’re changing the face of the roadway. For firefighters in particular, these vehicles raise myriad questions: How likely is it that I’m going to respond to an extrication involving a hybrid? How will I know I’m dealing with a hybrid? How should I adjust my tactics? Fortunately, there are many resources available to answer your questions.
Prevalence & Appearance
According to HybridCars.com, there are approximately 40 hybrid models currently on the road, plus eight plug-in electric vehicle models. Further, J.D. Power and Associates expects the number of hybrid cars on the road to triple by 2015. Instead of the 2% on the road in 2007 or the 3% in years 2008 and 2009, hybrids will make up 10% of the vehicle market share (that number will include vehicles that could utilize bio-diesel).
As FireRescue technical editor Les Baker points out, these vehicles have gone from “special” to “everyday.” With the exception of only one or two models that have a distinct appearance, most hybrid/electric vehicles are built on existing commercial chassis and therefore look just like most other vehicles on the road, and the only defining characteristic is a sticker or tag that may not even be visible after a collision. Further, certain areas of the country—particularly urban areas—have seen a faster uptick in the number of hybrids on the road; however, hybrids’ reach has been expanding more and more, even breaking into the commercial vehicle market. In short, this isn’t just a fad; first responders must be prepared to handle these types of vehicles.
The first step at any vehicle scene: Assume all vehicles on the roadway are hybrid/electric until proven otherwise. Although there are often several layers of redundant safety features, it’s best to be cautious until you have a more complete understanding of what you’re facing. For one, treat all vehicles as if the system is energized and, if in doubt, avoid coming into contact with any high-voltage wires or components to avoid the risk of serious burns or shock.
Baker explains that if you’re dealing with a hybrid vehicle, you often won’t be forced to significantly change your tactics—but there are a few key things that will differ from stabilizing a normal vehicle. First, immobilize the vehicle using wheel chocks, etc. One of the primary issues with these vehicles is that the engine is silent while running. It is therefore critical to secure the vehicle first so it doesn’t suddenly move without warning. To do so, place the vehicle in park and set the parking brake; turn off the ignition; confirm the “Ready” light/dash illumination is off and turn off headlights to avoid high-intensity discharge (HID) ignition and shock hazard. Finally, locate and disconnect the 12-volt battery. Remove the high-voltage disconnect switch (an orange plug located on the high-voltage battery pack), pull fuses/relays in the fuse block under the hood by starting with largest/highest amp fuse first, or cut the fuse block or engine wiring if there is no access to fuses.
As hybrid and electric vehicles emerge as a more significant factor in roadway operations, the number of applicable resources will increase as well. Fortunately, some great information is already available to first responders.
Funded by a $4.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, the NFPA’s Electric Vehicle Safety Training project (www.evsafetytraining.org) is a nationwide program that helps firefighters and other first responders prepare for the growing number of electric vehicles on the road. The website includes online training, webcasts, resources based on car make and model, and a calendar of classroom training sessions. Jason Emery, a firefighter with the City of Waterbury, Conn., and a frequent instructor on hybrid vehicles, explains that this site is really a central repository for first responders, and that the project funds specialists to travel around the country conducting train-the-trainer sessions through state fire academies.
“We’re used to responding to incidents involving diesel or gasoline, so it’s the addition of that high-voltage electrical component that has us stopping and asking ‘how do we deal with this?’” Emery says. “These vehicles are designed different than the circuits that you would find in a house, so not all the information that we’ve been taught as to how electricity works in a building is applicable.” Emery also suggests visiting your local car dealerships, making contact with the service manager, and asking to see the response guides for hybrid and electric vehicles.
Moditech Rescue Solutions has released the Crash Recovery System app (iCRS) for the Apple iPad, which allows emergency responders to access vital vehicle data on the extrication scene (www.moditech.com). HybridCars.com is also a useful resource for general information about hybrid vehicles.
Additionally, check out FireRescue’s webcast Identifying & Securing Hybrid Vehicles by Doug Cincurak (www.firefighternation.com/webcasts/identifying-securing-hybrid-vehicles). The webcast addresses many common misconceptions about hybrid vehicle technology, things to look for when approaching to the vehicle to determine whether it’s a hybrid, how to stabilize hybrid vehicles and safety procedures related to voltage cables and connectors.
Sidebar 1: Hydraulic Tool Tips for the Extrication Scene
Three FireRescue contributors offer advice on how to properly operate hydraulic tools:
From Lt. Steve Shupert
- Practice deploying your hydraulic tool kit with all the support tools.
- Clean tools after every use, check all fluid levels and top off as needed. Wipe tools with a clean cloth and a non-petroleum cleaner to avoid cross-contaminating the hydraulic fluid. Don’t use a wire brush or other abrasive; you could damage the cylinder.
- Keep extra hydraulic fluid on your apparatus.
- Clean the glass out of your hydraulic shears’ hinge points.
- When considering a new purchase of hydraulic tools, get third-party verification that the tool kit meets NFPA 1936: Standard for Powered Rescue Tools.
From Todd Meyer
- Maintenance—Have your tools serviced at least once a year by a qualified technician, or more often if the tools are used frequently.
- Fuel—Your manufacturer may advise you to store your power unit with the fuel turned off.
- Weekly checks—Run your power unit up to operating temperature, and get it hot. This will also help you cycle through old gas.
- Hoses—Be careful when storing hoses. Those stored in a compartment with a kink in them may lead to early failure. Watch out for leakage in your high-pressure hoses.
- Torque—During your monthly checks, torque the tools to manufacturer’s specifications.
- Tool limitations—Try to avoid cutting with your tips. Your tips are the weakest part of your cutter, so try to position the material down toward the base (fulcrum). Watch the roll of the cutter (beware of the separation) and watch the cutter blade.
- Thorough but minimalistic—When cutting with hydraulic cutters, don’t stop the cut short—especially on the posts. Close the cutters completely to finish any residual material. Cut the softest material and as little of it as possible. Avoid reinforced areas and high-strength steel, and pull trim to look for hazards and variations in vehicle construction. But as mentioned, when you do cut, finish the cut.
- Positioning—Prepare to use your extrication tools from all angles, and practice holding them in different positions, including over your head.
- Hinges/Nader pins—When taking doors, most people go right at the hinges or Nader pins and stay there. But look at other places where the crash may have created void spaces.
From Les Baker
- Once a hydraulic tool has been connected to the power unit and pressurized, test the tool by moving the control handle/lever to ensure that it’s operable.
- When not in use on the extrication scene, place hydraulic tools in ready-to-use positions.
- Don’t displace or distort areas that haven’t been properly evaluated for potential hazards; it can cause a significant vehicle reaction.
- It’s sometimes better to hit preexisting holes and/or move cut locations up or down slightly. When one cutter blade contacts a harder area, it will stop until the other blade cuts through lighter material and meets it. This reaction causes the rear of the tool to move in the direction of the blade still moving.
- During tactics such as side removals, dash displacements and roof flaps, responders are required to make relief cuts that don’t completely sever vehicle parts. In these situations, it’s important to make sure that you get sufficient “relief” to complete the tactic. There are safe ways to contact the vehicle with a knee, hip or elbow to help them “feel” the vibration of the cut.
Sidebar 2: Extrication & Rescue Gear Tests
Check out these extrication & rescue equipment product reviews at www.firefighternation.com/tags-page/extrication-rescue-gear-test.
- Lumiflex’s Rescue Cablelight
- SurvivalStraps’ Survival Bracelets & Survival Belt
- BullEx’s SmartDummy Rescue Manikin
- First Alert’s Rescue Mat
- Protecto Wrap Company’s Protecto Extrication Wrap
- CMC Rescue’s MPD Rescue Tool
- MSA’s Workman Tripod
- Weeb Enterprises’ Penguin Ice Ladder
Sidebar 3: Facebook Poll: What level of confined space rescue response does your crew/department provide?
- Awareness: 58%
- Operations: 21%
- Technician: 21%
Sidebar 4: Rescue Tips from Andy Speier’s Rescue Training Columns
Tips for Managing a Belay for a Litter over an Edge
“As the belayer holds a fist-size half-twist, or Z-twist, of slack for a properly run belay, the load will have to travel prior to stopping. If the belayer doesn’t hold back the Z-twist of slack, they may inadvertently hold the Prusiks open, which will cause the rope to descend farther prior to stopping.”
Using a Highline for Operations in Vertical Shafts
“The rescuer should bring a standard four-gas CGI meter into the space to continuously monitor air quality and report readings to the surface. For maintaining communication, a hard-line intercom is best. A vertical shaft will work with a VHF radio signal, but allowing the attendant (air cart person) to have constant communication with the entry team significantly increases the safety of the operation.”
Storm Drain Search & Rescue
“Vertical manhole ladders are often set back from the manhole access point, which makes it awkward to go from ladder to manhole or vice-versa, especially if you’re working in a class III harness and appropriate outer gear. A pre-rigged 4:1 haul system or cable winch on a tripod set up above the manhole will ensure safe passage up or down.”
Safe Access to & Removal of a Victim Caught in a Tower Crane
“When working with a bottom-entry cab, rescuers must gain access to the top emergency hatch if the operator is unconscious. There’s no ladder to the top of the cab, so someone has to climb up the exterior using whatever hand-holds they can find. They should also bring some sort of tool to force open a rusty, bent access hatch. Once inside the cab, they’ll need to pull the operator off the seat so they can open the bottom hatch from the inside.”
Additional Extrication & Rescue Resources
- Technical Rescue Field Operations Guide, Edition 4, by Tom Pendley
- NFPA 1006: Standard for Technical Rescuer Professional Qualifications, 2008 Edition
- NFPA 1983: Standard on Life Safety Rope and Equipment for Emergency Services, 2012 Edition
- NFPA 1670: Standard on Operations and Training for Technical Search and Rescue Incidents, 2009 Edition
Editor’s Note: A reader sent us another useful reference. After some of his department’s firefighters had difficulty locating the battery on a late-model SUV, the reader sought out information on this subject and was provided with material for how to purchase AAA manuals, including the Hybrid Vehicle Jump Start/Towing/High Voltage Shut Down Manual. The manual covers all vehicles (foreign and domestic) back to 2001 in a single-page format. The guide can be purchased here: http://www.awdirect.com/hybrid-vehicle-jump-start-towing-high-voltage-shut-down-manual-hh1/manuals-education/
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