Article and photos by Jason Emery
First released in the 2005 model year, the Escape Hybrid has been Ford's only entry in the hybrid market to date, but this will soon change when Ford releases the Fusion hybrid for the 2010 Model year. The only noticeable modification to the Escape hybrid since it has been available occurred in the 2008 model year when the body style changed. Considered the most fuel-efficient hybrid SUV on the market today, Ford will continue the production of this vehicle for the foreseeable future. Although not specifically discussed, the Mercury Mariner and Mazda Tribute hybrids are essentially the same vehicle as the Escape. The information given in this article can also be applied to them.
As with most other hybrids, the outward appearance is essentially the same as the non-hybrid Escape. Responders can find external hybrid badging on the rear lift gate (passenger side) and the front fenders. The 2005-2007 model year uses Ford's "Green" leaf and highway logo as well as the word "hybrid" in all three of these locations (figure 1). From 2008 on, this logo and the word "hybrid" appear on the rear gate, while the front fenders have just the logo (figure 2). Keep in mind, however, that you may see this logo by itself on alternative-fueled Ford vehicles, such as those that run on E85. Responders can also look at the driver's side rear quarter glass for the presence of the battery-cooling vent (figure 3). Additionally, one of the following character sets--U29, U39, U49, U59, U95, or U96--will be present in the 5th, 6th, and 7th positions of the vehicle identification number (VIN), depending on whether the vehicle is an Escape, Mariner, or Tribute.
There are also indicators of a hybrid vehicle in the vehicle's interior. On the dashboard, there is a charge and assist indicator (figure 4) which notifies the driver whether the battery is being charged or assisting in the vehicle's propulsion. At the bottom range of the tachometer, there is a green area that is designated with an icon in the shape of a battery with the letters "EV" (figure 5). When the tachometer needle is pointing here, it means the vehicle is in its "ready mode." This indicates that even though the vehicle's gasoline engine is shut down, it can move as soon as your foot is removed from the brake or the accelerator is depressed. On the 2008 and newer models, you will also find a lighted green car icon in the dash area (figure 6). Additional indicators inside the engine compartment include the orange wiring, the hybrid logo on the plastic cowling, and the high-voltage warning label (figure 7).
Hybrid Systems and Operation
The Escape uses a 300v high-voltage battery to power the hybrid system. The battery pack consists of 50 battery modules; each module is comprised of five low-voltage Ni-MH (nickel-metal hydride 1.3v) batteries welded together. Like other hybrid models, these batteries are "dry cell" and do not pose a significant leak hazard. In the unlikely event that one of these batteries is crushed, a few small drops of electrolyte may be released. The high-voltage battery is underneath the carpet in the rear cargo area (figure 8). As with other hybrids, battery charging is accomplished through regenerative braking as well as using power from the gasoline engine. This hybrid is considered a "full hybrid," since it can run only on its electric motor at lower speeds and also use the motor to assist the gasoline engine, depending on the acceleration needs.
When approaching a hybrid or any other type of vehicle involved in an accident, approach in a way that does not put you directly in the vehicle's potential travel path (front or rear). This is especially important when working around a hybrid, since the vehicle may be in its "ready" state and be able to move under battery power even though the gasoline engine is off. If the driver were to take his foot off the brake or accidentally hit the accelerator, the vehicle would begin to move. As with any vehicle response, be sure to secure the vehicle immediately on approach by using tire chocks. Then ensure that the vehicle is in park, the ignition is off, and the emergency brake is engaged.
After ensuring the Escape Hybrid will not move, disengage the high-voltage system as well as the occupant protection systems. You can best achieve this by shutting off the ignition (as noted above) and removing the key. Once the ignition is secure, disconnect the negative cable from the 12v battery. This battery can be found in the standard location under the hood. This action disengages the 12v power from the normally open relays in the high-voltage system, which in turn shut down the flow of high-voltage electricity. When powered by 12v, those relays close and complete the high-voltage circuit; when opened, the reverse takes place. Removing the 12v power will also make the occupant protection systems safe for responder operations. Frontal and side impact curtain air bags are standard in the '08 and later models (figure 9-10). Earlier versions had frontal bags with optional side impact airbags. After you have completed the primary method of shutdown, you can achieve additional safety by removing the service disconnect plug on the high-voltage battery. Turn the plug counterclockwise to the "unlock" position and pull straight up (figure 11). Set the plug back into the battery in the "service" position. This severs the connection between the battery and the rest of the high-voltage system. The battery, however, will remain energized. If the battery is damaged, do not attempt to access the service disconnect lever. That should be attempted only by a trained technician with the proper equipment. Be sure to review the ERG information regarding the procedure.
There are no specific techniques for extrications involving the Ford Escape Hybrid. As with all hybrids, you must be careful not to cut through high-voltage cables. In the Escape Hybrid, the high-voltage cables run underneath the vehicle just inside the frame rail on the passenger's side, an area not typically considered a cut point. The orange high-voltage cables are visible only in a small area on the underside of the vehicle (figure 12).
The guidelines for the Escape Hybrid closely mirror many of the guidelines for other full hybrid models on the road. Prior to extrication operations, always be on the lookout for indicators of a hybrid or other types of alternative fueled vehicles. Always abide by your department's standard operating procedures when operating at the scene of a motor vehicle accident. Be sure to update those guidelines to address hybrid vehicles and additional types of alternative-fueled vehicles.
For a more in-depth article on hybrids and hybrid vehicle systems, consult the upcoming May 2009 issue of Fire Engineering.
If you have been involved in an incident involving hybrid or alternative-fuel vehicles, contact me at Jason@etsrescue.com. Case studies involving specific incidents will help further educate firefighters on the proper methodology for dealing with hybrids and other alternative-fueled vehicles.
Jason Emery has been with the Waterbury (CT) Fire Department for 14 years and is assigned to the rescue/hazmat company. He is an 18-year veteran of the fire service, is a certified fire instructor, and has a bachelor's degree in fire science from the University of New Haven. He has taught extensively on the subject of hybrid vehicles and is an FDIC lecturer. He is the founder of Emergency Training Solutions, LLC and the lead PowerPoint® designer for the soon to be released Fire Engineering Handbook for Firefighter I & II.
Subjects: Hybrid vehicle hazards and extrication.