So These Two Chevy’s Meet on the Street…

So I see this commercial pitting the old Chevy against the new one and my mind begins to wander -as it often does- about how much has changed in the cars over the years and how we perform extrication. (cue dream-sequence music).

Remember when we had crashes that involved those nice old cars like this ’59 Bel Air that just needed a crowbar and a come-along to remove the body, err victim, err patient?

Nope, neither do I- I’m not that old. Yet.

But it wasn’t too long ago that crumple zones never existed and an air bag was just another derogatory term used to describe a (insert noun here).

Then yesterday, I ran across a post from Smitty at

He offered up a host of useful links firefighters can use to enhance their knowledge of the dangers of certain vehicles involved in crashes. Automakers have done a nice job of supplying volumes of information full of safety warnings and diagrams of various systems on the newer cars today. But there is so damn much of it!

My department has a disproportionate amount of crashes which involve expensive luxury vehicles (do you have any Grey Poupon?). When these new-fangled wiz-bang auto machines with their “pre-tensioned this” and “airbag that” first came out, it took a little bit of time for us to realize that vehicle extrication would never be the same. New hazards became part of our crash scenes year after year. Sadly, many our brothers and sisters across the nation were injured or worse at what we used to call a “typical” extrication.

Basic information on these new safety systems was easy enough to learn. However the vast variety of new components and their placement based upon the manufacturer makes our job so much more difficult.

Knowing that old VW batteries were located under the back seat was about the extent of “extra” knowledge needed back in the days of disco. Today, it’s impossible to remember everything about every vehicle. Pulling up on a crash scene and knowing just where to cut and pry and how to “make-safe” each component of each vehicle has become an increasingly difficult yet no less necessary.

So what’s a jake to do?

Short of getting that Dex guy to sit on the roof of the vehicle to give you pointers, we’re left with few options.  So let’s start with a few suggestions to help you prepare for that next crash between a Chevy Equinox and an ‘09 Altima Hybrid:

First, does your agency have SOG’s/SOP’s that are up-to-date with the new automotive systems? Take a look at them now and update them as needed to keep pace with new changes as they are introduced.

Some departments have on-scene technology available that enable the rescue crew to pop the VIN of a vehicle into a computer. A diagram can be spit out and taken to the vehicles to develop and implement the safe tactics needed to mitigate the situation unique for that vehicle. This is a great way to utilize mobile computing if available to your agency.

Before the incident, train by reviewing basic safety measures for hybrid vehicles, natural gas-powered vehicle, and electric vehicles. You’ll never know all the specifics, but you should definitely be aware the basics of how to safely disable and power down each type of system.

At the crash, ensure that the scene is safe now and will remain safe throughout your rescue. Disable systems early to avoid problems later. Realize it will take more than just “taking the battery”.

Ensure the rescue team has one leader and a plan. We’ve all seen the cluster that develops when we start tearing apart the car without one leader and a plan. Never assume who is in charge of the extrication. Never begin until everyone is on the same page.

Work as a team, constantly communicating with each other, constantly offering suggestions. The guy doing the cutting may not see what the guy inside sees. Remember, with each step in the rescue process new challenges may crop up. Talk constantly.

Always have a Plan B. Be fluid. Don’t be locked into a plan that should be changed as your rescue progresses. Focus is paramount, but tunnel vision is poison.

If you are doing the cutting/prying/spreading, carry a small hand tool in your pocket that will quickly allow you to “peel-n-peek” before you bring in your big guns. Removing cheap plastic to glance inside is a small investment in time with great benefits to your safety.

As should be the case for any incident, perform a quick and informal critique at the company level once back at your house. Review your team’s actions. Identify new issues that arose. Above all, encourage input from everyone and address positive criticisms for what they are- opportunities to improve.

Change is inevitable. We accept that. Keeping sharp on new challenges is a part of developing that certain “pride in company”.

Remember, this job is a helluva lot more fun when you know what you’re doing!

Stay stoked!

-Jeremy Black,

Stop by Smitty’s post for all the links to many of the manufacturer’s emergency response guides. Don’t’ forget to drop him a line with some thanks. Be prepared though, because there are 42 separate links based on make, and model and year, and whatever. And for dessert, there’s a link for the Mercedes Benz Emergency Response Guide that clocks in at 120 pages!

Bon Appétit!


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John Mitchell

Firefighter/Paramedic and a Lieutenant in suburban Chicago

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