First Responders 

The information in this section is for law enforcement officers, fire service personnel, emergency medical service providers and other public safety personnel who arrive on the scene of a crash and are involved in extricating victims from air bag-equipped vehicles.

Public Safety Community Letter

Recently, there has been increased media attention about the potential dangers of extrication-related deployments of automotive safety equipment (i.e., air bags, seat belt pretensioners, etc.) to emergency personnel during rescue and EMS operations. While there have been reports of injuries to rescuers, the prevalence of these types of incidents is not known.

For several years, NHTSA's Special Crash Investigation Program (SCI) has investigated reports of injuries from safety devices, including malfunctions and/or inadvertent activations of air bags during rescue operations. In the few reported cases of deployments occurring during rescue operations, it was found that the vehicle electrical system was either not properly deactivated or the responders had inadvertently damaged the vehicle air bag control module.

NHTSA's Crash Investigation Program and Emergency Medical Services Division will continue to monitor and analyze the problem. However, in order to determine the extent and nature of any hazard and design appropriate countermeasures, it is crucial that NHTSA receive information on as many of these incidents as possible. Emergency services providers are reminded to report all unintentional deployments of automotive safety equipment, whether or not the rescuer is injured, by one of the following methods:

  • John Brophy, Special Crash Investigator, 202-366-0328 or
  • David Bryson, Highway Safety Specialist, 202-366-4302 or
  • By facsimile: 202-366-5374, Attention: SCI Program
  • By mail: U.S. DOT/NHTSA, Special Crash Investigation Program, Attention: John Brophy, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE, Washington, DC 20590

The safety of emergency services personnel is of paramount importance to NHTSA. The agency will carefully review all reported hazards involving vehicle safety equipment and, in concert with its national partners, take action to ensure emergency responders' safety. You are encouraged to share this reporting mechanism with all emergency services and law enforcement agencies.

Additional Resources

The following is a list of rescuer's guides. These guides contain useful information for first responders, including location of air bags, sensors and pretensioners by vehicle make and model, as well as battery location and electrical deactivation times. This information is provided for reference purpose only. NHTSA does not endorse or assume responsibility for the content in any of these guides.

Additional information about dealing with extrication in air bag-equipped vehicles can also be found by visiting these non-Federal sources: