EMERGENCY RESCUE GUIDELINES FOR AIR BAG EQUIPPED CARS *
Incident with a Fire
First use normal fire extinguishing procedures then follow the rescue guidelines below.
Incident with a Deployed Air Bag
Use normal rescue procedures and equipment.
Do not delay medical attention.
DEPLOYED AIR BAGS ARE NOT DANGEROUS
However, they do produce a dust that may cause minor skin or eye irritation which can be prevented by:
– Wearing gloves and eye protection – Keeping the dust away from the patient's eyes and wounds – Removing gloves and washing hands after exposure to the dust
Incident with an Undeployed Air Bag
An Undeployed air bag is unlikely to deploy after a crash.
Most incidents will not require rescuers to work in what would be the deployment path of the air bag; therefore, rescue operations can begin without delay.
IN THOSE RARE INSTANCES WHEN SOMEONE IS PINNED DIRECTLY BEHIND AN UNDEPLOYED AIR BAG, SPECIAL PROCEDURES SHOULD BE FOLLOWED:
or in what would be the deployment path of the air bag
until after the system has been fully deactivated
* Based on information provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) by the automobile and air bag manufacturers, and coordinated with the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA).
If your questions are not answered below, please contact the NHTSA Office of Occupant Protection, NTS-13, Washington, DC, 20590, or the USFA Office of Firefighter Health and Safety, NETC, Emmitsburg, MD 21727.
AIR BAG-EQUIPPED CAR EMERGENCY RESCUE QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Q1. How does an air bag work?
Most air bag-equipped cars on the road today have a driver-side air bag. A few makes, Lincoln, Mercedes, and Porsche, have both driver- and passenger-side air bags as standard or optional equipment. The air bag is designed to supplement the protection offered by safety belts. In a frontal impact of sufficient severity (comparable to a collision into a solid wall at 10-14 MPH or above), sensors in the vehicle detect the sudden deceleration and trigger the inflator module. This causes the solid chemical propellant sealed inside the inflator, principally sodium azide, to undergo a rapid chemical reaction. This reaction produces primarily nitrogen gas, the same gas that makes up 80 percent of the air we breathe. The gas inflates a woven nylon bag packed inside the steering wheel hub or the instrument panel for the front seat passenger. The bag inflates in less than one-twentieth of a second, splitting open its protective cover, and inflating in front of the occupant. As the occupant contacts the bag, the nitrogen gas is vented through openings in the back of the bag, which helps to cushion forward movement.
Because air bags are designed to deploy only in frontal or near-frontal crashes–not in side, rear, or rollover crashes–it is possible that you will be involved in rescuing someone from a car with an air bag that did not deploy.
Q2. How do I identify a car equipped with an air bag?
If the bag has deployed, you will be able to see it dropping from the steering wheel hub or the instrument panel om the passenger side.
If the bag did not deploy, several methods can be used. The steering wheel hub is large and rectangular, (about 6" X 9"). The large hub usually will be covered with a scored, soft plastic material. The words, "Supplemental Inflatable Restraint," "Air Bag," or initials such as "S.I.R.," or "SRS," may be embossed somewhere on the surface. In most cases, the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) can be used to determine the presence of an air bag. Exhibit 1 shows the codes used by the auto manufacturers. Some manufacturers indicate the presence of an air bag system by placing placards under the hood and on the driver side windshield pillar.
If you cannot determine whether the car is equipped with an air bag, you should assume that it has one, particularly if it's a late model car, and follow the guidelines for air bag cars.
Q3. Is smoke produced during deployment?
There are three kinds of "smoke." First, many people mistake the corn starch or talcum powder used to lubricate the bag as smoke. These substances should not be a problem for rescue workers or accidents victims. Second, a sealant which is used to prolong the life of the air bag system can smoke when the air bag is deployed. This smoke dissipates rapidly and should not be cause for concern. Lastly, during deployment, small particles from inside some bag systems are vented into the passenger compartment. These airborne particles look like some, and some are deposited as a powdery residue on and around the bag.
Q4. Is the air bag hot?
The bag itself will not be hot. Some components within the air bag module will be hot for a short time, but they are relatively in accessible and should pose no threat to rescue personnel or crash victims. However personal contact with the steering wheel hub should be avoided for at least 15 minutes after deployment.
Q5. What about the powdery residue on and around the air bag?
The residue is primarily corn starch or talcum powder, which is used to lubricate the bag as it deploys, and by-products of the chemical reaction that produces the nitrogen gas to inflate the air bag. This residue may contain a small amount of a potential skin irritant, sodium hydroxide.
The same gloves and eye protection that rescuers would normally wear to protect themselves (from sharp metal edges, glass, or from bodily fluids) also will prevent any irritation to the skin or eyes resulting from the residue release during deployment. Thus, the potential for this type of exposure is not severe enough to warrant delaying rescue operations. Hands should be washed with mild soap and water after handeling a deployed bag. Also avoid rubbing your eyes, eating, or smoking after handeling the bag until you have removed the gloves and washed your hands. Rescuers also should take care to avoid introducing the residue into the eyes or any wounds of the patient. If the residue gets into the eyes, they should be flushed with water.
Q6. Is there any sodium azide in the residue? Is it harmful?
There is no detectable amount of sodium azide residue present in the passenger compartment after an air bag deployment. Sodium azide, a component of the air bag inflator propellent, converts to the nitrogen gas used to inflate the air bag. Sodium azide in it's solid state is toxic, but since it is hermetically sealed in a very strong metal container, which itself is located inside a protective housing within the steering hub, it is unlikely that rescue workers will be exposed.
Q7. If a undeployed air bag module is somehow ruptured, what precautions
should be taken?
In the unlikely event that the canister containing the sodium azide-based propellent is ruptured, any unburned propellent will be found in a variety of pressed tablet forms. Do not touch or ingest any exposed propellent or expose it to an ignition source. As in all other rescue operations, rescuers should wear gloves and eye protection.
Q8. Is the sodium azide canister likely to explode during a car fire?
No. The air bag is designed to inflate normally in the event that a vehicle fire causes the canister to be heated above 300 Degrees F. Consequently it is possible that the air bag will deploy in a car fire, but there should be no fragmentation of the inflator.
Q9. If there is a fire in an air bag car, can water be used to extinguish it?
Yes. Any effective firefighting medium, including water, may be used to extinguish a fire in an air bag-equipped car.
Q10. Is it all right to breathe the passenger compartment air after an air bag
Chemical analyses of deployment by-products show no reason for concern. Also tests have been conducted with volunteers, chronic asthmatics known to be highly susceptible to airborne particles. These tests showed that the atmosphere produced by an air bag inflation posed no respiratory system hazard to the asthmatics studied.
Q11. What has been the experience of crash test personnel in dealing with air
NHTSA has crash tested more than 70 with air bags. The test engineers and technicians who regularly handle deployed air bags and test dummies have reported no ill effects from their repeated exposure to the products of air bag deployments.
Q12. If the air bag did not deploy in the crash, is it likely to deploy after
No. The sensor devices used to activate the system are designed to respond only to the type of violent forces present during a crash. It is unlikely that the same type of forces will be created during rescue operations.
In most cases, rescue operations can proceed normally and without delay. In the unlikely event that a driver or passenger is pinned behind an undeployed air bag, it will be necessary to take special precautions (See Q15).
Q13. If the air bag(s) did not deploy in the crash, can the system be
The electrically activated systems used on most air bag-equipped cars can be deactivated. First, disconnect or cut both battery cables. This will begin the deactivation period for the backup power system that it part of most electrically activated systems. For some vehicle makes, deactivation will occur in a matter of seconds; others take a few minutes, (See Exhibit 2). Mechanically activated systems, used only on 1990 Jaguar coupes and convertibles, cannot be deactivated in the field.
VEHICLE IDENTIFICATION NUMBER (VIN) CODES FOR DRIVER- AND PASSENGER-SIDE AIR BAGS
MODEL VIN VIN MAKE SERIES YEARS POSITION VALUE TYPE _________________________________________________________________________
ACURA LEGEND 1988-91 4-5 KA D NSX 1991 4-5 NA D
AUDI 1989-91 6 5 D
BENTLEY 1990-91 8 D D
BMW 1986-91 8 1 D
BUICK 1990-91 7 3 D
CADILLAC 1989-91 7 3 D
CHEVROLET 1990-91 7 3 D
CHRYSLER 1988-91 4 X or Y D TC MASERATI 1991 7 2 D
DODGE 1988-91 4 X or Y D
FORD 1985-91 4 C D
INFINITY 1990-91 8 C D G-20 1990 8 C D
ISUZU 1990-91 7 3 D
JAGUAR PALLETTE COLLECT 5 W D XJS 1990-91 CLASSIC COLLECT 1991
LEXUS 1990-91 4 C D
LINCOLN 1990-91 4 C D 1989-91 4 L D/P
MAZDA MX-5 1990-91 4-8 NA351 D RX-7/Convertible 1990-91 4-8 FC352 D
MERCEDES BENZ 1984-91 8 B or D D 1989-91 8 E D/P
* D = DRIVER SIDE AIR BAG D/P = DRIVER-SIDE AIR BAG and PASSENGER-SIDE AIR BAG
Q14. Should rescuers wait for the system to be fully deactivated before
proceeding with rescue operations?
Except for the special case of someone being pinned behind an undeployed air bag, rescue operations can and should begin immediately. Rescue workers should not place themselves or any objects on the air bag module (the face of the steering wheel hub), or in what would be the deployment path of the air bag.
Q15. What if someone is pinned behind a steering wheel or instrument panel
with an undeployed air bag?
In the unlikely event that a driver or front seat passenger is pinned behind an undeployed air bag, special procedures should be followed.
If circumstances permit, wait for the system to be fully deactivated before attempting to remove the victim (See Q13 for deactivation procedures).
You need not wait to provide medical attention, so long as you do not place your body or any objects on the air bag module, or in what would be the deployment path of the air bag.
If the patient must be removed at once, extrication efforts should be performed from the side of the entrapped victim, and away from the potential deployment path of the air bag. Do not place your body or other objects against the air bag module. Do not mechanically displace or cut through the steering column unless the air bag system has already been fully deactivated. At no time, should anyone drill into the air bag module, or apply heat (above 300 Deg. F) in the same area of the steering wheel hub.
In the case of the mechanically activated system currently found only on 1990 Jaguar coupes and convertibles, extreme care should be taken to avoid sharp, jolting impacts to the steering column, particularly in a forward or rearward direction. Cutting of the steering wheel rim or the column is permissible, if the previously mentioned types of impacts can be avoided.
NOTE: Crashes that result in victims being pinned behind an undeployed air bag will be rare. NHTSA has not heard of such a case among the thousands of crashes documented to date. A unusual combination of circumstances, for example, a direct side impact which buckled the floor upward beneath the victim, would have to be present to trap someone without deploying the air bag.
Q16. Occasionally we use damaged cars for rescue training purposes. The cars
are scrapped after we finish the training. Should we take any precautions to prevent an unwanted deployment during training?
Before using an air bag-equipped car for training purposes, deploy the air bag. A procedure for deploying the air bag can be found in the service manual, provided by each manufacturer to its dealers. Contact the car dealer for assistance.
EXHIBIT 1 (Continued)
MODEL VIN VIN MAKE SERIES YEARS POSITION VALUE TYPE _________________________________________________________________________
MERCURY 1985-91 4 C D
MITSUBISHI 1990-91 4 X D
NISSAN 1987-88 8 B D 1989-91 8 C D
OLDSMOBILE 1988-91 7 3 D
PLYMOUTH 1988-91 4 X or Y D
PONTIAC 1989-91 7 3 D
PORSCHE 1987-91 6 2 D/P
ROLLS ROYCE 1990-91 8 D D
SAAB 900 1990-91 5 L or K D 9000 1988 5 L D 9000 1989-91 5 L or K D
TOYOTA SUPRA 1990-91 4-8 MA70M;MA70N D MA71M;MA71N
CELICA 1990-91 4-8 ST88P;ST87F D ST87N;ST85N AT86F;ST87K
MR2 1991 4-8 SW21M;SW21N D SW22M;SW22N
VOLKSWAGON 1989 6 9 D CABRIOLET 1990-91 6 5 D
VOLVO 1989-91 5 A D
DEACTIVATION TIMES FOR AIR BAG BACKUP POWER SUPPLY
VEHICLE MAKE TIME _____________________________________________________
Acura 15 Seconds
Audi 10 Seconds
Bentley 30 Minutes
BMW 20 Minutes
Chrysler 2 Minutes
GM 10 Minutes
Isuzu 10 Minutes
Lexus 20 Seconds
Mazda 10 Minutes
Mercedes 1 Second
Mitsubishi 30 Seconds
Nissan 10 Minutes
Porsche 10 Minutes
Rolls Royce 30 Minutes
Saab 20 Minutes **
Toyota 20 Seconds
Volvo 10 Seconds
VW (Cabriolet) 10 Minutes
MY 1991 = 1 minute if positive battery
cable is shorted to ground, 15 minutes if not shorted out ** 0 Seconds if panel beneath steering column is removed & orange connector to air bag module is disconnected