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To Deflate…. or Not?

Recently, there have been more articles and discussions on rescuers utilizing tire deflation as part of vehicle stabilization at motor vehicle accidents.  Some of the discussions raise concerns  related to run-flat tires, low-profile tires, etc. and how they affect could potentially affect stabilization efforts.  There are some in the business that insist that we must deflate tires at every scene (does it work if the car is on its roof?)  However, is tire deflation even necessary in any scenario?

First, if they have not already done so, rescue crews should adopt a policy that the first stabilization that must be accomplished at any motor vehicle collision is chocking the wheels, both fore and aft on any vehicle that is sitting upright. This will immediately begin to prevent horizontal movement of the vehicle.  Even if tire deflation is completed, a vehicle could still potentially roll away.  Think – today’s “run silent” alternative energy vehicles pose additional challenges.  And by now everyone has heard of the “silent car” issues and the potential for a vehicle to move.  It is imperative to make the chocking of wheels part of the initial scene activities at any vehicle accident response, even if no additional stabilization or extrication evolutions need to occur.

In some discussions, it is mentioned that deflating tires will limit or prevent vertical movement; however, rescuers need to remember that the tires themselves are only part of the vertical stabilization problem.  There are still the other suspension components (springs, shocks, air suspensions, etc.) that will still be “in play”.  The vehicle will still require proper stabilization using box cribs, step crib, or whatever your agency utilizes.  This stabilization needs to be placed in such a manner as to prevent all vertical movement, as well to increase the foot print between the vehicle and the ground.  Deflating tires may or may not make a difference in the rescuers efforts.

From a practical standpoint, tire deflation is becoming more difficult as there a is move to metal valve stems on vehicles, and while yes, rescuers could be equipped with valve stem tools, is it necessary to take the time to do this when good basic stabilization needs to be completed anyway?

Another point-of-view to consider is how tire deflation may affect law enforcement’s investigation of the accident.  I realize that this is not a “rescue consideration” per se, but it is something that needs to be a part of the discussion when developing your agency’s SOP’s/SOG’s, since we do need to have a good working relationship with the law enforcement community.

An accident reconstructionist can use tire pressures to assist in determining speeds and other factors that may or may not have contributed to the accident.  Automatically deflating tires at an accident scene eliminates an important investigative tool for law enforcement.

Likewise, we should not forget about our friends in the tow industry as well.  If we arbitrarily deflate tires at every accident, and have no mechanism to inflate them upon completion of the rescue, the tow company’s job becomes much more difficult.

Bottom line, I don’t believe that tire deflation is a benefit at motor vehicle collisions, and really serves no purpose that cannot already be dealt with in other ways.  In fact, deflation may cause more issues than its worth…