Learning To Deal With Special Needs Vehicles

New vehicles are fraught with gizmos and gadgets that can save lives and save fuel, but can be deadly to first responders in rescue operations. We need to be prepared to deal with them at a moment’s notice.

So called “special needs vehicles” need to be identified quickly and efficiently. Some quick and easy drills would help teach firefighters and rescue folks about these hazards.

By “special needs” I am referring to alternate fuel, hybrids and vehicles with advanced occupant protection/restraint systems such as side air bags and similar equipment.

One way to quickly identify these vehicles is by the manufacturer and model along with vehicle markings. Hybrid and alternate vehicles look like their standard gasoline powered cousins. Hybrids will have some type of indicator badge on the vehicle exterior and even under the hood.

There is usually a brightly colored, high-voltage line running through the vehicle between the motor and batteries that can be visible under the hood. Another good indicator is the presence of battery vents.

Alternative Fuel Vehicles

On alternate fuel vehicles such as ethanol or LPG-powered vehicles, there will also be vehicle logos such as Flexible Fuel Vehicle FFV and an LPG vehicle will have an additional fill cap.

Today’s vehicles, with advanced restraint systems, will also have warning labels and decals on the windows and other locations. There are numerous variations out there on power, fuel and restraint systems.

If we are to conduct safe extrication operations then we must be familiar with all of these.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I find it hard to keep up with all of the latest vehicle technology and especially to remember it at 2 a.m. So, to keep this information straight and handy, and to get it outside of the training room, we need to organize it to make it field accessible.

Available Information

We first need to determine what is available, information wise, that we can use in the field.

All hybrid and alternate fuel vehicle manufacturers have emergency response manuals, which include specific response procedures and extraction guidance to ensure responder and occupant safety.

The same holds true for vehicle safety restraint systems. Most of these are in a print or CD format and can be acquired from the manufacturer’s website, trade journals and various other websites including www.extrication.com which has excellent information.

The issue becomes how to carry all of this information in our vehicles. The simplest method would be to get a binder or two and place these manuals and articles in the binder for reference.

Hooking up with a copier or document scanner could be helpful. If you go this route please make sure you place the information in plastic binder sheets or laminate it to protect it from the environment.

If you are into a little more of the hi-tech end of things, let us look at placing the information on a laptop or PDA for quick access in the field.

If the material is not in CD format, then scanning the information into files and then loading them to a CD for use or downloading to the laptop is not a difficult task.

If you don’t want to load this information on the laptop in your vehicle or PDA, you might want to consider using a memory stick to store the information on. It is a lot smaller than a CD.

From my experience, I think it is better to have everything loaded up on the PC or PDA from the beginning. It eliminates a lot of issues and problems with operating systems and other compatibility concerns.

Some additional information and programs for your apparatus computers or PDAs are available to augment what you have put together on your own.

Holmatro has produced the fifth edition of the Rescuers Guide book and CD. The book includes an electronic version of the reference guide and is very easy to navigate.

The program can be run from the CD-ROM on a PC. You may also request a special code that enables installation onto the computer’s hard drive. Multi-user licensing is also available.

The program includes data on all vehicles from 1985 through 2006, and now includes the most up-to-date information on current model cars as well as light, medium and heavy trucks that contain safety systems.

Another program included on the CD is a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) Decoder. The decoder lets you enter the VIN number of an otherwise unidentifiable vehicle and with the click of a button decode the VIN, providing details about the make, model and year.

Armed with this information, rescuers can quickly navigate the hyperlinks to identify the pertinent safety hazards.

Hurst Jaws of Life is marketing the Crash Recovery System by Moditech Rescue Solutions. It is a software application package that provides complete interactive configurations for over 20,000 vehicle makes and models.

All American model vehicles are included from the year 2000 and forward. It was specially developed for rescue workers to provide an invaluable information source for extracting people from wrecked vehicles. The operation is easy the rescuer selects a specific model of vehicle, and the interactive system displays a top and side view of the vehicle.

Safety Features

The program indicates the vehicle’s safety features in various color schemes. Operating the right-side screen buttons, allows the rescuer to remove vehicle body components to display the vehicle’s safety features.

Along with exact location and technical specifications of the potentially hazardous components, it also indicates how they can be safely removed or disabled.

The software is compatible with most current PC or laptop computers. This software provides easy-to-use and understand critical information and makes it portable.

Other software programs are available and can be loaded on to your devices for filed use.

Quick identification of a special needs vehicle and special extrication concerns such as restraint systems, needs to be done quickly and efficiently, just as the extrication operation must be conducted.

With all of the changes in today’s new vehicles, we must have the proper information at our fingertips so we don’t make a bad situation worse by improperly working on vehicles, and potentially causing responder injury or additional injury to vehicle occupants.

A Little Research Time

A little research time and a notebook, or some downloaded hi-tech software on a laptop or PDA can save valuable time and provide a higher level of safety.

Look at these software programs and develop your own resource database for responses.

This is vital information we should have with us in the field. Don’t be afraid to go hi-tech and prepare yourself for today’s new vehicles.

Remember to size up the scene, and particularly the vehicle, to make sure you know what is behind the vehicles skin and how to deal with it safely.

As always be safe and return to quarters.

Editor’s Note: Allen Baldwin is the manager of operations and incident response for the Pennsylvania Turnpike commission and a volunteer captain with the Gettysburg (Pa.) Fire Department. He has been a firefighter and EMT for over 25 years, once serving as a career fire chief, and is an instructor with the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy and several community colleges.

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