National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System: Airbag Deployment

Vehicle accidents are a leading cause of injuries and fatalities; automakers are doing what they can to make vehicle travel as safe as possible. Airbags have become standard equipment on every vehicle sold in the U.S., and they are credited with saving over 4,000 lives annually. As this week’s featured report relates, this same lifesaving equipment can become a hazard even at incidents where vehicles haven’t been involved in a collision.

“…On this particular event, we found an occupant stuck in her vehicle in knee deep water. Due to the weather and the debris on the street under the water, we determined the best way to remove the occupant from the hazard was to have her place her vehicle in neutral and push the car approximately twenty feet in reverse to higher, dry ground. Three firefighters took a position on the hood and I took a position to lean down and push on the driver’s side “B” post. There was no impact to the vehicle, it was just stalled and stuck in the water. We began to push the vehicle in reverse and, instantly, the steering wheel air bag deployed. I immediately received hearing loss in my left ear from the detonation blast that triggers the air bag and it stunned me…”

A vehicle with undeployed airbags must be treated with caution and requires precise technical knowledge to ensure the safety of patients and responders. Though similar in function, Supplemental Restraint Systems can vary greatly between vehicle manufacturers, vehicle types, production year models, and available options. To complicate the situation even further, there are pyrotechnic seatbelt pretensioners and back-up power supplies that must be dealt with. As emergency responders, in order to protect ourselves and our co-workers, we must constantly educate ourselves to stay current with these safety systems.

This featured report is particularly noteworthy as there was no impact involved with the deployment of the airbag. Once you have read the entire account (CLICK HERE), consider the following:

1. In addition to water, what other factors can trigger an airbag to deploy?
2. What are some indicators that a vehicle is equipped with an airbag system? (Hint: SIR, SRS, SIPS)
3. Are the personnel in your organization familiar with the 5-10-20 Rule?
4. Why should an extrication tool or other equipment never be placed between an un-deployed airbag and person?
5. If you have had an incident involving an accidental airbag deployment, have you notified the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration?

Have you had an air bag deploy unexpectedly during an incident? Submit your report to today so everyone goes home tomorrow.

Note: The questions posed by the reviewers are designed to generate discussion and thought in the name of promoting firefighter safety. They are not intended to pass judgment on the actions and performance of individuals in the reports.


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