Rescuers prep for hybrid car accidents
Tuesday, May 4, 2004 Posted: 1:56 PM EDT (1756 GMT)
Emergency crews are scrambling to learn more about how to avoid catastrophes that could be caused by hybrid cars' high-voltage electric systems.
There should not be high voltage in those cables, but I'm not going to stand up and say there isn't.
-- Chris Peterson, Toyota service training instructor
PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania (AP) -- The growing popularity of hybrid vehicles poses a new danger for rescuers at accident scenes: 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 training."
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, New Jersey.
Manufacturers have a list of safety checks that the car's computer must go through for the electrical system to run. They've published guides showing the location of the electric components; 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, Oklahoma, who teaches rescue workers about hybrids.
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.
Rescuers are taught to disconnect the battery and turn off the key immediately before cutting into a car, but that's not always possible.
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, Florida, 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.
Copyright 2004 The Associated Press.
It's gonna be interesting to see what local governments are gonna do when they realize the HAZMAT aspect of these things too.
Wont take long.
Yup, we have had a couple models at our meetings from the local dealers so we could check em out and honda sent a rep/trainer out who gave us a ton of great info.
Watched one of the Toyotas burn in a carport fire about 6 months ago, put out a LOT more smoke than you would expect. Really makes you wonder what it was spreading all over the apartment complex.
The fire guys didn't seem too happy at all when somebody identified the car.