Is It Time to Change Our Training Yet? Part 3: Fuel Tanks
A melted gas tank following a vehicle fire. (Photo: Lee Junkins)
Lee Junkins, Midsouth Rescue Technologies
Unlike the classic ’57 Chevy or the luxury Lincolns and Cadillacs of yesterday, auto designers today are forced to meet many safety, economic, and environmental standards. These three standards affect most every part of the vehicle including the fuel system.
One of the greatest threats to human survival in automobile collisions is fire. Ruptured fuel tanks, filler tubes, and fuel lines are major factors in post crash fire situations. Once fuel spillage has occurred, the likelihood of that fuel coming into contact with an ignition source is almost a sure thing and once ignited not more than twenty seconds are available for escape from a burning automobile, even with protective fire gear (as we will later see).
From 1968 to 1972 the NHTSA researched and analyzed auto fire causes, after seeing the disasters from the Ford Pinto gas tank design. During that four year period nearly 9,000 people burned to death in flaming wrecks. Tens of thousands more were badly burned and scarred for life.
The ‘73-‘87 Chevy PU gas tank design cost GM more than $500,000,000 in law suits, and is considered the worst cause of automotive design related deaths in history, with a list of victims names over 15 pages long. Many of our law enforcement friends have been killed or injured in the Crown Victoria crashes due to the gas tank design, and the list goes on and on.
In an effort to relieve the gas and oil crises automakers are forced to cut every ounce of weight possible.