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Unstable vehicle containing casualties

Hazard Knowledge

In this guidance, the term 'mode of transport' refers to any form of transport such as aircraft, rail vehicles, road vehicles, vessel or craft that has become unstable due to the incident. The instability may be as a result of damage caused to the vehicle during the incident, as a result of its location or resting position, or a combination of these factors.

At the scene of a vehicle rescue incident, the geographic layout may be less than obvious. An obvious hill or slope may be a reminder to secure the vehicle, but an insignificant gradient may go unnoticed.

The vehicle may well be secured by collision damage but it should be remembered that ramming, cutting away or pulling during operations could release the vehicle, allowing it to become a 'runaway'.

The risk associated with incorrect stabilisation application or poorly managed and maintained stabilisation increases dramatically the larger or heavier the unstable vehicle.

Where the casualty is injured, especially seriously or in a critical, deteriorating condition, the vehicle should be secured and stabilised. This will yield several benefits, some of which may not be obvious to the attending fire and rescue service personnel. Proper stabilisation will prevent the floor pan flexing and the vehicle moving or rocking, particularly when personnel climb into or onto the vehicle.

It is important to note that if responders climb into or on to a collision-damaged vehicle before suitable stabilisation, they may be subjecting the casualty to further crushing. The body weight of personnel in the vehicle may be directly supported by the casualty's trapped legs, particularly where a vehicle component has given way under impact or is cut during the rescue.

Securing the vehicle in a realistic manner will help to avoid rocking when carrying out certain techniques and will suppress jarring when operating equipment, especially where a part may be released under load, such as a forced door removal. It will also ensure that medical attendants have a sound base for their pre-hospital care.

There is seldom any feedback about the person who was trapped, but it is known that post-collision trauma may be life-threatening. Being released from a vehicle that has been correctly secured should be less traumatic for the casualty.

Being released from a correctly secured vehicle should be considered less traumatic.

Before beginning any work on the vehicle, it should be completely stabilised to prevent further injury to the casualty and to protect the rescuers.

The properties of a good stabilisation method are:

  • It should secure the vehicle safely
  • It should completely immobilise the vehicle, preventing it from moving at all and reducing the casualty's chance of further injury
  • It should be simple, being able to stabilise a vehicle in the position it was found on arrival of the rescue crew, and not hinder the appropriate extrication of the casualty
  • The method should not take a long time to set up
  • It should allow for easy checking on a regular basis to ensure the vehicle remains stable

Fire and rescue service personnel should practise and train as a crew to effectively stabilise different vehicles in a variety of locations, such as soft ground or in ditches. Fire and rescue service personnel should also be familiar with differing construction techniques, including the materials used, to ensure that stabilisation techniques make best use of the load bearing parts of a vehicle's structure to support the vehicle, rather than sheet metal, fascia sections etc. Refer to the Extrication section for new or heavy vehicle construction.

Everyone should know the speed required to stabilise, be aware of the importance of doing so, and be aware of the ways the objective can be reached.

The vehicle may continue to move or collapse because of instability, resulting in injury to members of the public, fire and rescue service personnel, other agencies and so on. It could cause damage to the environment, other vehicles or surroundings.