[cifnmedia] Hybrid cars a danger to rescue workers

  • From: Sean & Kimberly Aaron <cifn@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: CIFN LIST <cifnmedia@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 5 May 2004 02:08:34 -0700 (PDT)

Updated: 05-04-2004 03:05:57 PM

Rescue Workers Say Hybrid Cars A Danger

Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- The growing popularity of hybrid vehicles is a step toward 
cleaner air and less dependence on gasoline. But for rescuers at accident 
scenes, they represent a potential new danger: a network of high-voltage 
circuitry that may require some precise cutting to save a trapped victim. 

``You don't want to go crushing anything with hydraulic tools,'' said Samuel 
Caroluzzi, an assistant chief with the Norristown Fire Department outside 
Philadelphia. ``It's enough to kill you from what they're telling us in 

Hybrids draw power from two sources, typically a gas or diesel engine combined 
with an electric motor. The battery powering the electric motor carries as much 
as 500 volts, more than 40 times the strength of a standard battery. 

That worries those who must cut into cars to rescue people inside. 

``If you can't shut it down, you don't know where the high voltage is,'' said 
David Dalrymple, an emergency medical technician in New Brunswick, N.J. 

Manufacturers have put in place a laundry list of safety checks that the car's 
computer must go through for the electrical system to run. They've published 
guides showing where the electric components are on their models; on the Toyota 
Prius and other hybrids, the high-power cables are colored bright orange to 
catch the eye of a rescue worker or a mechanic. 

But there are concerns over what happens if something goes wrong and the 
battery, ignition and other points are inaccessible. 

``It's the 'what-if' that worries me,'' said David Castiaux, an instructor for 
Mid-Del Technology Center in Del City, Okla., who teaches rescue workers about 

Chris Peterson, a service training instructor for Toyota, said the Prius' 
electric system should shut down if anything goes wrong. ``There should not be 
high voltage in those cables, but I'm not going to stand up and say there 
isn't,'' he said. 

First responders are taught to disconnect the battery and turn off the key 
immediately before cutting into a car, but that's not always possible. 

``Years ago you could just cut with your extrication tools through a post, but 
now you have to look before you cut,'' said Ken Nelsen, chief of the Iselin 
Fire Department District 11 in Woodbridge Township, N.J. ``It's just another 
thing you need to worry about.'' 

When air bags started becoming more common in the 1980s, rescue workers became 
aware of their potential to seriously injure or kill when inflated. Those 
concerns have been heightened now that the safety devices are being installed 
in side panels, seats and other areas. 

Concerns about hybrids are increasing in large part because of their growing 
popularity. Sales have risen at an average annual rate of 88.6 percent since 
2000 and recent figures show the number of Americans driving them jumped more 
than 25 percent from 2002 to 2003. 

The Honda Insight and the Toyota Prius are common now and more are on the way: 
hybrid versions of the Ford Escape, Honda Accord and Lexus SUV this year, and a 
Toyota Highlander in 2005. 

The Alachua County Fire Rescue in Gainesville, Fla., even has two hybrids of 
its own. Although its crews haven't had to deal with a hybrid crash, they've 
been getting versed on what to do when it happens, said Cliff Chapman, 
assistant chief. 

They know not to cut into a hybrid's doors - that's where many of the cables 
are - and to peel off the roof instead. They also now operate under the 
assumption that a car is energized, wearing rubber gloves and boots. 

Manufacturers say they will continue to keep rescue personnel up to date on 
their hybrids. But they also contend that hybrids can be seen as safer than 
regular cars. 

``Everybody's concerned about the electrical side, but could you imagine if we 
tried to bring gasoline out today as a motor fuel?'' Peterson said. 


Sean A. Aaron (CIFN*1)
Central Illinois Fire Network

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