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Date last updated: Thursday, January 4, 16:06 PST

Airbag Safety

Today’s vehicles pose many new dangers for First Responders. Advanced technology has made its way into the vehicles we drive daily. From dual inflator airbags to vehicles with voltages in excess of 500, automakers are making huge strides in vehicle safety for the occupants, but doing little to provide safety for the First Responder at the scene of the accident.

Frontal airbags deploy at a speed of about 200 miles per hour with enough force to seriously injure or kill anybody that is positioned too close to it. This same airbag may still have an un-deployed charge waiting to inflate the same bag a second time. Side airbags are being installed in the seats and doors of vehicles and are designed to inflate at even a faster speed than the frontal airbags. Manufacturers are also installing roll-over protection in the form of side curtain airbags that deploy down from the roof about 12 inches, and metal bars that explode up from behind the seats of our new convertibles. The 7-series BMW is equipped with 12 airbags including 2 that deploy from under the dash. And as we do all we can to stay up to date and informed on safe procedures for identifying the 30 possible locations for these explosive devices, Volvo introduces the XC-90 with all of the airbag labels removed. As long as there is power left in the energy reserve module, all of these devices have the potential to explode.

With the need to deploy safety devices even faster and more efficiently, manufacturers have begun installing compressed gas cylinders with pressures of 3000 psi or more in numerous locations on today’s vehicles. These cylinders are located in areas that First Responders have typically chosen as cut locations during extrication procedures. Accidentally cutting through one of these cylinders turns the cylinder into a deadly piece of flying debris being propelled through the vehicle with the force of a bullet. More and more hydraulic cylinders are also being installed which pose a great risk during a fire. These cylinders explode when exposed to high temperatures or fire and propel themselves and the parts they are attached to in numerous directions.

With the ever-increasing popularity of the gas/electric hybrid vehicle, safe handling procedures at the scene of the accident are more important than ever before. These vehicles pose many safety hazards. Hybrids use a combination of a gasoline engine with a high-voltage electric assist motor. The electric motor operates on voltages as high as 500 volts. Some of the safety precautions include not approaching the vehicle if there is sparking under the hood, never cutting into the battery pack or the orange colored cables. These cables are known as “Silent Killers” due to their extremely high voltage. Even after the battery pack has been shut down, the high-voltage battery remains charged. There may also be toxic fumes present around the vehicle after the fire is contained and only those with proper protective equipment and training should participate in the cleanup.

With additional safety devices being engineered into the automobile, and less concern for the safety of the Emergency Worker, up to date training with late model vehicles is a must. To be protected from possible accident or injury, new procedures and practices must be initiated to ensure all dangers are accounted for. I-CAR, the Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair, has developed a training program for Firefighters, First Responders and Emergency Personnel on safety at the scene of the accident. The training is offered at no charge, as a community service, at locations all across the country. Late model vehicles are used in the training and everybody is afforded the opportunity to practice extrication procedures on these vehicles. I-CAR’s hope is to help save the lives of those who work unselfishly to save the lives of others.

Emergency EXTRICATION SAFETY TRAINING hosted by Local I?CAR® Volunteers at the East Berlin Fire Department, March 13th, 2004

Conducted by I?CAR Instructor Todd Hoffman, all sessions are open to volunteer emergency services personnel around Connecticut. “These events are being conducted across the country and provide an excellent opportunity to provide potentially life-saving information to emergency personnel.”


Presentation Times Material Covered
Emergency Services Presentation 9 a.m. - 12 noon
  • Airbag and other restraint systems, with safety while working in and around collision-damaged vehicles as the primary focus.
  • Airbag locations, handling and disabling procedures, and dangers and myths.
  • Scanning the vehicle for hazards.
  • Alternative fuel vehicles and new hybrid vehicles.
  • The future of airbags and restraint systems in relation to first responders and emergency personnel.
  • Designed for first responders and emergency personnel.
Extrication and Vehicle Construction Training 1 - 4 p.m.
    New vehicle construction and collision energy management, with late model vehicles available for training.
  • When to cut or pry, where to cut or pry, and identifying danger zones.
  • Designed for firefighters and first responders.
The class will be held at the East Berlin Fire Department, located at 80 Main St, East Berlin, CT.Space is limited, and registration is required. Register by emailing with your department’s name, contact information, and number of attendees. Space is available on a first come, first serve basis.

About Todd Hoffman:

Todd has been in the collision repair business for over 30 years. For the past 5 years he has been traveling and teaching collision repair technology and repair procedures. For the last year he has spent most of his time developing a training program for firefighters, which has proven to be the most rewarding experience of his career.

Directions to the East Berlin Fire Department:

Route 91 north or south to exit 21.
Take a right off of the exit.
After you pass a walmart on your left, take a right onto Main St. (Just over the town line into Berlin.)
The Fire Department is just past the stop sign on the left.

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