Thursday, August 9th, 2012 9:08 am
By Chris Woodyard
For USA Today
At a firefighter training center, a modern sport-utility vehicle is being carved up like a rotisserie chicken at a summer picnic.
But the lesson today isn’t just about how to save trapped victims in serious car accidents.
Rather, it’s focusing on how cars have changed in ways that make rescues more complicated and dangerous for first responders — from new types of steel that are tougher to cut, to high-voltage cables in hybrid-electric cars. Firefighters and other first responders now face a host of unknowns at the scene of any serious auto accident.
“They’re designing cars for consumers, not for rescuers,” instructor Greg Rudiger tells a class of first responders here at the Rio Hondo Fire Academy training center.
Automakers want to help make rescues easier but are in a bind: Consumers are demanding lighter cars with advanced powertrains that get better fuel economy without sacrificing safety. Designs that accomplish those goals and include the most desired safety features also sometimes increase injury risks for rescuers. They make it tougher to extract victims to rush them to emergency rooms in the “golden hour,” the critical 60 minutes that can decide life or death.
As a result, automakers are trying to work with fire departments and educators around the country to train rescuers in new techniques and inform them about potential risks in person or with an avalanche of information and diagrams.
Industry groups also are pushing for stricter safety labeling and training. A task force of SAE International, a powerful industry group founded as the Society of Automotive Engineers, is close to recommending standardized labels for the inside and outside of all hybrid and other electrified cars so that first responders know quickly what type of vehicle they have encountered after a crash.
Photo courtesy of Kia Motors Worldwide