Altering Rescue Techniques For New Vehicle Technology

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A hydraulic spreader is used for the final step in NVT dash 


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Making a horizontal relief cut on a Volvo is one of the more 
difficult steps in NVT dash displacement.                           
(Champion Rescue Tools Photo)

With the onslaught of new vehicle technology (NVT) and the construction challenges that these cars present, rescue tools are not the only thing being put to the test during NVT auto extrications. Being armed with the best and newest 370,000-plus-psi rescue tools on the market is not the stand-alone answer to effecting rescues on today’s tough new cars. Our method, tactics and extrication techniques must also keep in step.

During the past few months, I have had a unique opportunity to offer over $750,000 worth of new Volvo vehicles to fire department training officers from around the country to cut apart as part of a NVT train-the-trainer program. The vehicles are considered by many to be among the safest vehicles on the road, as well as some of the toughest from which to extricate victims after a significant accident.

These vehicles were loaded with the latest state of the art safety systems and were constructed using “exotic” metals such as boron, magnesium and titanium surrounded by multiple layers of laser laminated steel. In short, all the features we’ve read and heard about (and some we haven’t) that present NVT extrication challenges were in these cars.

One of the more difficult NVT extrication evolutions presented to our training officers is a dash displacement. Dash displacements are made much tougher in NVT cars, due to the fact that what used to be simple dash assemblies have been replaced by boron and magnesium reinforced cowl superstructures. These cowl superstructures remind me of those found in super-speedway NASCAR vehicles.

For years, we cut A posts, made simple relief cuts in the kick panels, placed our rams and simply pushed the dash forward and up to effect a dash displacement. Ladies and gentlemen, with NVT those days are gone.

The following six-step procedure for an NVT dash displacement is a method that we have found to work. We don’t advocate this process as “the way.” It’s just another tool for your operational toolbox.

This process is actually a variation on a tried and true method known as a vertical dash displacement. I have also heard it referred to as an elevator cut displacement. 

First and foremost, do your peel-and-peek on the interior, before you cut or spread anything. Secure the windshield according to your SOPs or SOGs. Place cribbing below the base of the A post or at the point where the front fender meets the front door.

Make your A post cut. 

Next, spread the front fenders to at least forward of the shock towers. I prefer spreading them completely off of the vehicle.

Next, completely remove the hood (if possible) or expose it from the base of the windshield to forward of the shock towers. This process also gives better access to engine compartment mounted batteries for de-energizing electrical systems.

Next, cut or spread off the front doors. Remember that airbags in NVT cars are often mounted inside the door panels, and non-deployed airbags in doors can present a hazard when removing doors and also when taking doors to the debris pile. Place these doors with interior side up and don’t place anything on top of them.

This next step is often the most difficult in NVT vehicles. Make a horizontal relief cut (if possible) in the kick panel as deep as possible toward the front tire and just above the bottom door hinge. 
If your cutter has less than an 11-inch opening, you may have to make multiple cuts.

Next, make a vertical relief cut just behind the shock tower, which incorporates the fender well superstructure. Make an additional vertical relief cut just forward of the shock tower in the same way. The reason for making these relief cuts is that the new metals used in today’s new cars do not tear like the cars of old. Manufacturers are placing “design deflection” and “structural support” bends in the metal of the fender wells and firewalls that add incredible strength to the structure and create huge access challenges for us. If you can visualize these bends and obstacles as part of your size-up, you’ll find yourself ahead of the curve.

The final step is to place a hydraulic spreader into the horizontal kick panel cut (perpendicular to the cut itself), and attempt to displace the dash. Note: If the metal around the spreader begins to shred with no visible signs of dash movement your relief cuts will need to be deeper. Imagine trying to intersect the vertical and the horizontal relief cuts. The age and cutting/spreading capabilities of your department’s tools, will determine the extent to which you will need to deepen these aforementioned relief cuts in order to accomplish the displacement. 

Know Your Tools

I have found this process to work equally as well on older model vehicle rescues. If you should decide to incorporate this dash displacement method into your training, do not be fooled by the ease with which it works on older cars.  

The NVT vehicles used in our program were tough, very tough. Being fellow firefighters and officers and having been given the open invitation for input, our students tried a myriad of other techniques to displace dashes on the NVT Volvos. After the airbag dust cleared, they all came back to this method as the one that seemed to work the best. 

It is imperative that I remind anyone wanting to do NVT extrications to know the capabilities and the limitations of your department’s rescue tools before you tackle new vehicle technology. The simple truth is: If the material you are trying to cut or spread is harder than the metal in the tools you are trying to cut it with, you have a problem. Please don’t just crank up the power on your tools, as it is nothing more than a recipe for disaster and it doesn’t make the metal in your rescue tool blades any harder.

Editor’s Note: Carl Haddon is the national training director for the 5 Star Training Academy sponsored by Volvo North America and Champion Rescue Tools and serves as a deputy fire chief and fire commissioner for the North Fork Fire Department in Idaho. He is a career veteran of more than 25 years in the fire and EMS service in southern California and has served since the early 1980s as a fire/safety director for numerous racing organizations, including Penske Motorsports, NASCAR, USAC and Mickey Thompson Racing. He is a certified Level 2 fire instructor and teaches auto extrication classes across the country.

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