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Hybrid vehicle safety: New cars mean new safety procedures under emergency conditions

May 29, 2009
By MIRIAM MOELLER Journal Staff Writer

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MARQUETTE - In the next four to five years, it's estimated 5 million hybrid gas-electric vehicles will hit the streets of America.

But along with the movement toward more energy-efficient and less polluting cars, there comes a new set of problems -how to deal with these vehicles when they're involved in accidents.

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"(Consumers) are interested in being green and in less fuel expenses. There is a general interest in doing something good for the environment," said Jim Grundstrom of Frei Chevrolet in Marquette. "The buzz is coming and you want to be as prepared as possible."

Grundstrom, along with other local hybrid vehicle dealers and staff from Marquette General Hospital Health System, hosted a workshop for emergency first responders, firefighters and police Wednesday to demonstrate how to deal with a hybrid in an emergency situation. Hybrids run on battery power and gasoline. The voltage in a hybrid's electrical system is 30 to 40 times stronger than a standard car battery's.

"If you cut the top off (the vehicle), you're going to get an orange cable," said James Surrell of the MGHS digestive health clinic during a presentation to about 100 Upper Peninsula first responders. "If you cut into that, you're going to get a 300 volt shock. You've got to be really, really careful."

A electrical jolt of as little as 60 volts can be fatal to humans, Surrell said.

Surrell went on to explain how to identify a hybrid at an accident scene, how to approach the vehicle, shut it down and how to turn off the electricity.

In case of an accident, he said, it is crucial to first turn off the ignition and then disconnect the 12 volt and 300 volt batteries appropriately. Then the vehicle can be cut, if necessary, to rescue a victim from the car.

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"There are lots of places you don't want to cut these things," said John Veiht of Public Service Garage.

After Surrell's presentations, participants went to the Northern Michigan University campus for a hands-on demonstration of how to treat a hybrid involved in an accident. Dennis Karuzas, director of MGHS school of emergency medical technology, said it is great that society is becoming greener, but that trend will bring changes. Emergency hybrid safety is just one of many new things people must learn.

"When you look at the drive to a green society, it also brings along certain dangers," he said. "Green is good, but there's going to be some changes. What is going to be the new way?"

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