Facing new extrication challenges – new vehicle technology (NVT)

Published:  11 May, 2012

New vehicle technology (NVT) can seem intimidating, since not all rescuers can afford the latest tools with extra cutting performance. Aaron Heller, Fire Captain of the Hamilton Township Fire District #9 and co-owner of On Scene Training Associates, emphasizes that NVT is in no way insurmountable with a basic set of rescue equipment, and the right extrication procedures and strategies.

Many firefighters and EMS providers seem to be intimidated or worse yet, uninformed in regards to new vehicle technology (NVT). NVT is real and it is changing the way we do business at motor vehicle collisions. While NVT may present an increased challenge in extrication, it is not impossible to overcome. With NVT we are finding that the commanding officer upon arrival, needs to gather more information and often times will find the simple door pop doesn’t just consist of a little spread and all our problems are solved.

One of the changes NVT brings to the simple door pop is that the construction of the vehicle doors has changed significantly over the past decade and they will only get stronger over time. The new Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 214 calls for stronger side impact requirements. This means both “exotic” metals and new construction techniques are not just found in posts, roof rails, and firewalls, but also doors. In addition, extrication personnel are now encountering much heavier hinges that are heat treated and hardened to increase strength. As hinge technology advances, NVT is also impacting Nader bolts, which are being installed in non-traditional locations on the pillars.  Another significant addition to the door structure includes the tubes, bars, and honeycomb materials which provide additional protection for the vehicle occupants but complicate the extrication process. These are not only found in the high-end vehicles such as Volvos, BMWs, and Mercedes, but are now common in less expensive makes and models including many GM, Ford, Chrysler, Subaru, and Toyotas. These materials are now widely used in pick-up trucks, SUV’s, sports cars, and sedans.

The most common question rescuers are facing today is can their tools cut and spread these doors? There is no simple answer to this. Many notable extrication experts feel that unless your hydraulic cutter produces between 200,000 – 250,000 pounds of cutting force your success with the new technology will be minimal. Another concern refers to the capabilities of hydraulic spreaders. Even the newest technology spreaders have a large range of strengths, from as low as 11,000 pounds of spreading force, all the way to an advertised 79,000 pounds. However, fire services cannot afford to buy all the latest tools manufactured in the last few years and the trapped occupants aren’t expecting excuses. Due to all these issues, it’s time rescuers begin to think out of the box and employ the creativity we are known for. 

It is important for rescuers to size-up all extrications as you would a fire. Rescuers must get a 360-degree view of the scene; noting the location(s) of impact, the number of vehicles involved, number of patients, and the severity of the damage to the vehicle(s) involved. During the size-up it is important to determine if the patient(s) are physically entrapped or medically entrapped. The initial size-up should determine if “simple” door pop will suffice or if the situation isn’t quite so “simple”.

Once the vehicle is properly stabilised, the door requires attention. With modern vehicle design, it is important to locate the Supplemental Restraint System (SRS) components by the “peel and peak” method. The peel and peak method means we peel the trim away from the vehicle to examine where the hidden dangers lie. These dangers include non-deployed SRS air bags, pressurised gas cylinders, and sensors. If these potential hazards are present, it’s important to communicate it to the crew. Once it is determined that the door will not open by hand, rescuers must find or create a purchase point to attack either the hinges or Nader bolt. If rescuers are unable to initially access the hinges and are unable to determine the Nader bolt location, we can create a purchase point with the use of a Halligan bar and flat head axe (photos 1 & 2).


Create a purchase point by tapping the adze end of the Halligan bar should then be twisted down and up to create an opening for the hydraulic spreader tips. (Photos 3,4, & 5)


Another popular means of doing this is with the vertical door displacement. This is accomplished by first removing the window glass (taking care to cover the patients and rescuer in the vehicle). Using a hydraulic spreader (with an opening of at least 18 inches), the rescuer then places the spreader on a 90-degree angle on the top of the door panel. The spreader is opened to where the top spreader tip contacts the roof rail. When the spreader is opened, the door will push in an outward motion, away from the patient. It is the rescuer’s decision whether to attack the Nader bolt side of the door or the hinge side. This simple maneuver may be used to break a weaker top hinge or separate the door from the Nader bolt (photos 6, 7,& 8).    


Another way of creating space is the “door crush or squeeze” technique. When using this technique it is important rescuers take note of all door mounted SRS component locations and proper care must be taken regarding glass removal.  Once the rescuer decides to attack either the Nader bolt or the hinge side of the door, the hydraulic spreader is opened and placed with one arm on the outside of the door skin and the other on the inside. The spreader is then closed, squeezing the door skin and interior together, causing a purchase point at the point of attack (photos 9 & 10). The only drawback to this technique is the potential presence of anti-intrusion beams in the doors. These beams will complicate door removals as well.


In the case that a power tools does not have the required power to get the door open or removed, have you established a “Plan B”? What happens if your hydraulic power unit fails to start or your primary cutting tool is unable to cut the vehicle? Similar to a truck company relying too heavily on the power saw, the one-dimensional rescue company is sure to meet its match from time to time. One such “back to basics” option is an air ratchet or even hand tools such as end and box wrenches. If a spreader or cutter can’t break through the hardened steel hinges, unbolting them is a viable option. Once access is gained to the hinges, your rescue plan options can expand.

As NVT makes its way into your coverage area, the one constant that we continue to see regarding new vehicle technology is that today’s vehicles are posing extrication challenges we have never faced. Through training it is important for rescuers to realise the challenges posed by NVT vehicles are not insurmountable. If you aren’t making immediate progress with your hydraulic tools, remember to reposition and try again. Many times, simply repositioning the tool or taking another, deeper bite will make the difference. Once you have experienced NVT extrication, you will quickly realize NVT vehicles require many of the same cuts you have always made, but those same cuts may take more time to accomplish. Now more than ever we need to have patience, good control of the incident, and a solid plan B.

Aaron Heller is a 28-year veteran of the fire service and is a career captain with the Hamilton Township, NJ Fire District #9 in charge of training. Aaron is a Past Chief of the New Egypt Vol. Fire Company. He is an instructor with the Mercer County Fire Academy and is a NJ Level 2 instructor. Capt. Heller has been a H.O.T. Instructor with the FDIC and FDIC East. He is also a presenter at FDIC and many conferences around the country. Capt. Heller is the owner of On Scene Training Associates, LLC.

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