So let’s look at some of the new technologies out there and how they may affect us as a rescuer. We are going to examine this on a very basic level without going into a lot of details that most will not remember on the scene anyway. Once you arrive at the scene, our minds are working in overtime to strategize what we will need to do, to free our trapped or pinned victims and keep our rescuers safe.
Most cars on the road will certainly now have airbags. Frontal bags have been around since the 70’s so you can pretty much bet the cars involved in your crash will have frontal airbags. We are even seeing more and more cars that we use for training with airbags. Frontal airbags operate utilizing the electrical system in the vehicle and work off the battery. The sensors in the front of the vehicle send a signal to the inflator in the dash or steering column once an impact is detected. This split second signal ignites the inflator module causing a chemical reaction that produces a non toxic gas that inflates the airbag. The airbag inflates and deflates in a matter of milliseconds. There is a hole in the airbag that allows it to deflate very rapidly. It is lubricated with a soda based powder so it will come out easily. This powder will produce a dust like residue in the vehicle for a short period, but is not toxic or dangerous. However, should your patient have respiratory issues, this could aggravate their condition and should be monitored. How do we deactivate the frontal airbags, we disconnect the battery cable.
When disconnecting the cable, do be careful not to make contact with the hot or ground sides and produce a spark, especially if there is fuel or the battery itself is compromised. Most recommend disconnecting the ground first, then neutralizing that cable. Then follow up with the hot wire. Cutting the cables works well, and some departments tape them, while some cut and tape them. Once the battery has been disconnected, there is a time frame that the capacitor needs to drain any stored energy, and this is not automatic. This is designed so that on a frontal impact, and the battery is completely destroyed, the airbags will still deploy. Now the big question; how long does it take for the capacitor to drain all of that energy? That varies depending on the vehicle, but for most cars and trucks, the capacitor drains in about two minutes or less.
Steering Cut Away
Since we do not know the timing on this, several precautions should be taken. First and foremost, do not put yourself between the steering column, dashboard and the occupants. Always work as much as possible from the side, placing you arms and hands only in this area. Another option would be to place a restraint system over the dash and steering column that allows for the airbag to deploy, but restricts that deployment to a minimum. As we all know, energy cannot be destroyed, so it must go somewhere. Completely restraining the airbag could cause a catastrophic explosion of the steering column. The Rescue Net is one system I am aware of that does allow for this energy disbursement. Now if the frontal airbags have deployed, no worries, unless they are dual activating bags. We will discuss these in an upcoming column.
Over the next several issues we will look at some of the new technologies at a basic level and how we can safely deal with these issues during our size up and extrications. As always, stay safe and train hard, as saving lives is what we do. Always look forward to your comments and ideas.