Simple approach to modern vehicle crashes

Approach every motor vehicle crash using these steps to keep firefighters and victims safe


CHICAGO — Assume every vehicle involved in a crash is some sort of hybrid or alternative-fuel vehicle. Doing so will cover all the bases.

That was one of the key points Billy Leach, training manager for Ash-Rand (N.C.) Fire and EMS, drove home during his presentation at Fire-Rescue International. He also hammered home the point that supplemental restraint systems, or airbags, are the most dangerous thing facing firefighters on MVC incidents.

Leach laid out his approach to vehicle crashes using the acronym SIMPLE, which stands for secure, isolate, manage, protect, look and extricate.

The first step, Leach said, is to secure the vehicle using stepped wheel chocks. When chocking, be aware that the vehicle can move in six directions: up, down, to either side, forward or backward.

Next, isolate the hazard by containing the electrical supply. This is done by disconnecting or cutting the battery cables — negative first, then positive.

If cutting, Leach recommends using ratcheted cable cutters as these will easily go through the heavier cables found on large trucks and buses as well as passenger vehicles. These can run as much as $200, but are well worth it.

Leach also said to remove the vehicles key and store it at least 50 feet from the vehicle, which may seem far, but adds a buffer in the event that a responder misjudges the distance. Isolating the electric power is the only way firefighters can contain the airbags, he said.

If the curtain airbags have not deployed, Leach warns firefighters not to put their heads in the windows or lean in through open doors. This, he said, puts them in the direct path of the airbag.

"Manage the scene or it will manage you," Leach said. This means, among other things, securing access to the scene, working with police and having the correct number of ambulances and other resources available.

It is also critical to protect the victims and firefighters from potential fire. To do this, Leach said to make sure the hose line is between the victims and the greatest threat for fire. He also said to place fire-restrictive covers between victims and the fire threat.

There should be two firefighters in full PPE, including SCBA and masks, with a handline that can flow a minimum of 100 gallons per minute. This way, if the vehicle ignites, firefighters only have to pull the bale, not wait to mask up and get into position.

Leach said it is important to look before cutting as hazards are often unmarked and in hidden places. Firefighters should have a hand light and small tool such as a screwdriver to "peek and pry" before making cuts to the vehicle.

Finally, firefighters need to think in terms of extricating not extracting. "Move the metal not the patient," Leach said. Remove all the necessary parts of the vehicle so the patient can be brought out with "nose and navel" aligned, he said. 

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