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In 1984, chief Allan Dupuis of the Ontario fire marshal service came up with an idea to bring attention to a rising number of crashes causing serious and fatal injuries. The International Extrication Competition and Learning Symposium, approved by the International Association of Fire Chiefs two years later, spawned a competition among fire departments in which teams are allowed to use all means of extrication equipment in one situation, and only hand tools in another.

Fire departments throughout North America began forming teams to specialize in vehicle extrication, to trade knowledge and train new recruits. In Burlington, for example, the team is comprised of six members: the incident commander (team captain), team medic, assistant medic who also oversees matters such as vehicle construction, fuel types and number of patients, a member to oversee glass management and hazard checks, and two tool operators. They bring precision to chaos.

Except for the captain and main medic, all officers are trained equally in order to swap roles. The Burlington Fire Department rotates three new members each year into the program, to a maximum of two years for each, unless they return for a final hitch as the team captain.

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"The idea is that each of the four platoons on the job has a current member on the team to bring back the skills learned to that shift," team captain Paul Keyes says.

If you've ever belatedly realized the car next to you was actually an electric vehicle or a hybrid, imagine that confusion in the midst of a crash scene where that tiny badge or label has been obliterated. For a vehicle rescue team, vehicle identification is vital, especially as a greater number of hybrids and electric vehicles hit the road. Modern technology in general presents new hazards and scenarios.

Closing down power sources is a first priority on a crash scene; rescue teams need to know where they are, what they are and how to safely contain them. Imagine, when trying to save a life, first having to determine if an engine that runs silently is on or off. A push-button starter can complicate the situation too; if it is hit accidentally, an engine could power to life. An unexploded airbag presents another danger to rescuers and trapped occupants. Beyond stronger steel compounds, a challenge for rescuers is plastic or carbon composites which can break or shatter.

Auto makers are working with the rescue industry to identify high-voltage systems with colour-coded wiring and stickers in more places. They also provide departments with schematics and information on sensors and service disconnects.

If you have questions about driving or car maintenance, please contact our experts at globedrive@globeandmail.com.

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