Rescue readiness

Rescue readiness

In this article Steve North, Founder, and Rescue Director of International Road Rescue and Trauma Consultancy (IRRTC) looks at modern vehicles and the technology that is built in to them to protect the occupants. Commonly known in the vehicle and rescue industry as New Vehicle Technology (NVT).

Although many rescuers are aware of these types of systems he explores whether skills are adapting to the changing dynamics and designs of modern vehicles.

Manufacturers of vehicles are under constant pressure to make road vehicles safer and more efficient. There have been many interventions in vehicle safety over recent years with the inclusion of Supplementary Restraint Systems (SRS) such as Seat Belt Pre-Tensioners and Airbags. These are all examples of Passive Safety Systems which are common and expected as standard in modern vehicles and are mainly unconsidered by the user. Along with the ‘Passive’ systems there are the ‘Active’ Safety Systems which are designed to avoid a collision and function the whole time the car is driven: power steering, traction control, anti-lock braking system(ABS) and tyre technology to name a few.


A certain level of these safety systems are expected as standard. in all modern vehicles, as with most things the more expensive upmarket vehicles will have more safety built in, these vehicles can have a large number of airbags fitted all over the car including steering wheel and passenger airbag, doors, posts, curtain side, foot-wells, and seats; some vehicles may have airbags installed to protect pedestrians such as bonnet and bumper airbags.

Although these safety systems are designed for vehicle occupant safety and are proven to work well at protecting the occupants, when it come to rescue attempts any un-deployed airbags can pose a danger to the rescuers if not managed correctly following a road traffic collision. The large number of airbags will in turn mean the presence of an equal number of initiation devices of differing types such as pyrotechnic and stored pressure activators. Depending on their position, it is common to find stored pressure cartridges built into posts and roof linings which can be extremely dangerous if accidently cut through by rescuers due to a rapid loss of stored pressure and production of projectiles.

Techniques and working practices which have evolved which rescuers use to reduce the risk offered by these un-deployed airbags and other passive safety systems should be put in practice as standard. However, these techniques are not a standard practice in all areas of the world.

Body materials

Probably one of the biggest challenges to rescuers today is the introduction of new body materials which are now commonly used in vehicle manufacture, Ultra High Strength Steels and Alloys are now a common feature in most modern vehicles again with the higher end having a higher lever of these metals giving more protection to the occupants. There are various types of steels and alloys in use over a range of different areas in vehicles and all offer a greater level of protection. For example, side impact bars found in doors, driver and passenger safety cell adding strength and protection for occupants, reinforced wheel and engine, energy deflection systems that deflect the wheels and engine under the car away from the passenger cell. The different type of materials will all react differently to the extrication tools that are available and a good understanding of this and the techniques used to deal with them is essential to the safety of both rescuers and casualties.

Mainly used in sports cars, Carbon Fibre has become more popular in vehicle manufacture; offering weight advantages whilst adding a great degree of strength and protection to vehicle occupants. It can be around four times stronger than steel, carbon fibre and can now also be found in a lot of the newer high end vehicles as it becomes more recognised and availability increases. Carbon fibre reacts completely differently to steel and aluminium and therefore we need to adapt our rescue techniques accordingly – a knowledge of which techniques do and don’t work on a Carbon Fibre vehicle has become essential.

A good example and testimony to its advantages is in Formula One race cars that are all made from carbon fibre, another example is in the aerospace industries with modern aeroplanes now being manufactured in carbon fibre; all for the same reasons as the motor vehicle industry… Its strength and weight qualities.

Of course a vehicle may be made constructed in several materials with strength built into various parts of the framework of the vehicle.

The introduction of crumple zones some years ago was one of the early steps in reducing injuries and death to vehicle occupants and with this simple intervention many lives have been saved and injuries avoided. All this ensures much higher levels of safety to vehicle users, however the strength of materials used, along with the other safety systems as mentioned, make rescue much more difficult for emergency services and rescue organisations when trying to gain entry and create space in and around the vehicle to facilitate a safe casualty extrication.

Vehicle glazing

A growing number of vehicles are now being manufactured with a polycarbonate type glazing, an extremely strong, shock resistant and lightweight type of glazing that moulds to any shape making it a desirable option for body styling. Polycarbonate is also used in some designs for side glazing which can cause difficulty for gaining entry for rescuers especially with the safety lock down features that usually engage at around 5mph.

Although the number of casualties that are physically trapped in vehicles is lower now than it was before the introduction of NVT’s, the forces that a person’s body suffers on impact can still mean that full vehicle extrication techniques are necessary to release casualties that are trapped by their injuries rather than any physical entrapment.

It is fair to say road users travelling in a very modern, expensive, ultra safe vehicle will of course have a great sense of security and protection from Road Traffic Collisions (RTCs). However there is nothing to guarantee that these vehicles will not be involved in a collision and that this may occur in an area that doesn’t necessarily have the the most up to date knowledge skills and equipment for road rescue especially when facing the added difficulties that NVT presents.

Keeping up with New Vehicle Technology and advancing rescue techniques is a full time job for both rescuers and rescue tool providers and many rescue services are falling behind in preparing their crews to deal with NVT. IRRTC are at the forefront of vehicle rescue and working constantly with vehicle manufacturers and equipment suppliers to advance road rescue techniques in order to keep updated with NVT and find solutions to the difficulties that it presents. As a result of our research and due to demand we have designed a specific training programme to assist rescuers in technical and practical skills to prepare them for modern vehicle rescues.

My own experiences teaching road rescue to emergency services all over the world confirms these facts to me and I can proudly say that lives have been saved due to the training that along with my colleagues we have delivered in many parts of the world on both commercial and humanitarian based training missions.

We have all worked for many years promoting excellence in road rescue techniques and trauma response via organisations such as the United Kingdom Rescue Organisation (UKRO) and the World Rescue Organisation (WRO) and our own rescue services, our aim is to deliver and train rescue personnel on a global scale to the highest levels of readiness for operational response.

In our next article we will be looking in depth at Electric vehicles and in particular lithium batteries and how this evolution in propulsion systems requires specialist knowledge when rescuing casualties.

If you would like to know more about how IRRTC can help your organisation prepare and respond to modern vehicle collisions and systems visit