Hybrid vehicles change fire rescue tactics

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

In recent months, both career and noncareer fire departments in Southeast Missouri have been trained on risks involved and tactics used during hybrid vehicle rescues.

In the same way that airbags changed rescue tactics several years ago, hybrid vehicles and newer technologies require different approaches to extricating people after an accident, said Cape Girardeau fire battalion chief Mark Hasheider.

State fire instructor John Sachen said that he has found no studies or statistics that show hybrid vehicles are dangerous to its passengers.

"The key is that firefighters are just unaware that these vehicles exist," he said, and that is what increases the risk.

Last week, Sachen released an online PowerPoint presentation through the University of Missouri-Columbia Fire and Rescue Training Institute. The presentation highlights ways firefighters should "size up" hybrid vehicles.

Each hybrid manufacturer, such as Toyota, Honda and Ford, incorporates the same basic components: an electrical generator, a high-voltage battery, a gas tank and air bags.

Wires and cables connected to the batteries can deliver a punch of up to 650 volts, Sachen said, putting firefighters and responders at risk of electrocution, flash burns and ignition of leaking fuel. Manufacturers generally indicate high-voltage cables with orange wires, and sometimes red or yellow.

In order to disable batteries, Sachen said firefighters need to locate the batteries, with are typically behind or under the back passenger seat. More challenges arise from the locations of airbags, and some vehicles carry up to seven airbags.

The Cape Girardeau fire department has not had any accidents involving hybrid vehicles, Hasheider said.

jmetelski@semissourian.com

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