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Extrication blog: Managing risk 

Ian Dunbar, Rescue Consultant with Holmatro, shares his thoughts on managing risk in an extrication context.

This video clip is 21 years old. The incident happened in Dayton, Ohio, USA in 1994. Thankfully everyone involved made a full recovery.

I guess there are not many rescuers around the world who have not seen (or at least heard about) it, most likely as part of their training when it comes to dealing with the potential risk from undeployed airbags on scene. It is one of the top three subjects I am asked about during training sessions and seminars (along with vehicle construction and hybrid vehicles).

Risk in context

When discussing this topic, I always endeavour to try to put the issue in some kind of context.

Let me be very clear; the risk from undeployed systems and their components (eg inflators) is very real. Vehicles now have many more airbags than they did even five years ago, so in theory the risk is increasing.

The following steps must always be taken to ensure you work as safely as possible:

  • Early identification of undeployed systems and their location
  • Isolation of 12v vehicle system
  • Application of an airbag restraint device (see below)
  • Minimising exposure within the risk area (without compromising patient care)
  • Peeling and removing all interior trim prior to cutting structural elements of the vehicle.
  • Application of an airbag restraint device

What I ask rescuers is this: With the exception of the video above, how many other confirmed incidents of this type have you heard of? The answer here is predominantly: "None" (although some anecdotal stories are told).

In addition, I ask how many extrications from vehicles with multiple undeployed systems take place each and every day worldwide. The answer is that nobody knows but such incidents probably number many hundreds, if not thousands.

If such an incident were to happen, we would very quickly become aware of it owing to the prolific use of social media in our industry.

So, should evolution change our perceptions of risk?

When I consider the above points, a few things immediately become clear to me:

  • Rescuers are far more aware of these systems and how to work safely around them than they were 21 years ago.
  • Deployment of systems during extrication is a rare (but not impossible) event.
  • The safety steps listed above are well known throughout the industry and are commonly practised at the majority of extrications around the world (although not all). It is, in general, standard practice.
  • Vehicle systems have advanced meaning the likelihood of such an occurrence is reduced eg auto 12v disconnect and rapid drain capacitors

My point here is not to disregard the risks, but maybe consider repositioning this issue in our list of priorities. There are more serious issues that pose a very real threat to rescuers on scene, and yet these questions are rarely (if ever) raised during my training sessions or seminars; the overriding concern from rescuers is always airbag systems.

The safety of rescue personnel is everyone’s priority and must remain so throughout all phases of every incident. My view is that we have the right knowledge, equipment and procedures to greatly control the hazard and therefore reduce the risk posed by such systems; maybe allowing us to slightly refocus on other safety critical tasks.

Ian Dunbar is Rescue Consultant for Holmatro, a Member of CRJ’s Editorial Advisory Panel and author of the Vehicle Extrication Techniques training book by Holmatro. He tweets from @Dunbarian

This blog was first published at 

Ian Dunbar, 21/01/2015
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