07 Mar 2018

The EV accident in Dilsen-Stokkem: Intervention guidelines for Plug-in Hybrids


The times when vehicles were only fuelled by diesel, petrol - or in some exceptional cases LPG - are gone. Alternative energy vehicles are entering the scene at a rapid pace and the operational deployment for hybrid & electric vehicles requires a different approach then what we were used to. The presence of high-voltage batteries comes with a different risk and requires specific handling.

The following article is based on a real intervention on a Plug-in Hybrid, in Dilsen-Stokkem, Belgium, on May 13, 2017. Please refer to the case study at the end of this article if you are interested in this particular incident.


CTIF News Logo

By Tom Van Esbroeck and Kurt Vollmacher / CTIF Commission for Extrication & New technology


A far less evident intervention

In general one can definitely say that many firemen still feel uncertain about alternative energy vehicles and that every commander always acts with the knowledge, experience and information available at that moment.

In this specific case, the time pressure is high: it is an emergency extrication.


Plug In Hybrid EV symbol


The identification of the vehicle type

On the side of the vehicle it is clearly mentioned: ‘Plug-In Hybrid EV’. On the back we also see ‘PHEV’, the English abbreviation of 'Plug In Hybrid Electric Vehicle’. These mentions let us know that we are dealing with a hybrid electric vehicle that can be recharged by means of a plug.


Outlander Phew


 Information sources

The manufacturers provide additional specific information on how to act in case of an accident:

  • The ‘Emergency Response Guide’ is an extensive information source.
  • The ‘Rescue Sheet’ is a quick use information source.


Rescue Sheet Plug-in Outlander


CTIF Guideline ‘New Vehicle Technology’

In close cooperation with different international instances one strives to actively respond to the always changing technologies we are confronted with.

(Oct/2017 – CTIF Commission For Extrication & New Technology)

Important remark: this is a general guideline. If available, the guidelines of the manufacturer always need to be followed. For instance to switch off the vehicle, there are different specific methods: cut through cable(s) provided, remove fuses, operate slide switch, … Because of the lack of uniformity, these are deliberately not further explained.




  1. 360° reconnaissance: always assume that you deal with a vehicle on alternative energy until proof to the contrary has been provided (petrol, diesel, CNG, LPG, electric, hybrid, hydrogen, …);
  2. Wear full PPE. Carbon fibre dust may be released: use at least a P3 mask. In case of a damaged high-voltage battery pack combustible and/or corrosive substances may be released;
  3. Approach frontally from the side: stay away from the driving direction, both forward and backward. A hybrid or electric vehicle may suddenly start to move without making a sound (also remember the victim);
  4. If possible, place wedges diagonally before a front wheel and a rear wheel;
  5. Always have an armoured high pressure nozzle ready by way of precaution.



Search for indications everywhere!

  1. Labels/name on the outside of the vehicle (brand, type, …);
  2. labels/name under the bonnet/boot;
  3. (damaged) orange high-voltage cables/parts;
  4. valve with electric recharging point for the vehicle;
  5. QR code (for Mercedes, Renault, ...);


At this moment different information sources exist, for free or paying, for instance Rescue Code: this app can be downloaded for free. It´s in English and is very user-friendly.  

Rescue Code


Screen Shot Rescue Code
Screenshot from the mobile application Rescue Code.
Here we find an information sheet (Rescue Sheet) with different components per vehicle (airbags, belt tensioners, batteries, …)
Sometimes the Rescue Sheet also mentions how you can secure the vehicle, but unfortunately not always.

3. IMMOBILISATION (a few actions if possible)


  1. Switch off the ignition (push button/key).
  2. Switch off the air conditioning.
  3. Activate the handbrake and possibly put it in ‘parking position’ or ‘neutral’.
  4. Signal danger with the direction indicators.
  5. Remove the key/card at least 5 meters away from the vehicle (break the radius of action).



  1. Switch off the vehicle from a possibly external recharging point (emergency stop or effective disconnection).
  2. Determine the location of the 12V battery (under bonnet, under seats, in boot, sometimes there are several...) and disconnect. First disconnect the negative pole and then the positive pole.
  3. If present: search for the location of the service plug and disconnect. Use electrically insulating gloves 1000V (!!) and face shield.
  4. Take into account residual voltage in the circuits, sometimes from a few seconds to a few minutes depending on the brand!
  5. High-voltage (HV) battery always remains under tension!!! Never damage or break open the HV battery!!!


15. Towing and aftercare

  1. Check with thermal imaging camera
  2. If possible accompany the vehicle to a “safe” stand = outside and at a radius of 15 meters away from other objects!
  3. Share findings during the intervention with the colleagues of the towing service!


6. Fire hazard!

Before, during and after the technical intervention a fire may start in the high-voltage battery.

An indication of this might be: bubbling sounds in the battery pack or (hot) smoke.

2Be aware that at that moment very toxic/corrosive gasses may be released (amongst other things hydrogen fluoride).

Extinguish abundantly with water.


Thanks to Dimitry Opdenacker, the towing service ATR and the Mitsubishi Belgium distributor.



Tom Van Esbroeck: tom.vanesbroeck@brandweerzonecentrum.be

                Kurt Vollmacher:


CTIF Commission For Extrication & New Technology



Accident with ‘Plug-in Hybrid’ in Dilsen–Stokkem

On 13 May 2017 at 8.53 pm team 3 of the Emergency rescue zone Oost-Limburg, post Maasmechelen receives a call for a technical intervention, with a person trapped in a vehicle. The additional information added to the call: “car against tree, do not leave the car, ‘total loss’.”


The intervention

Speaking is Capt. Dimitry Opdenacker, emergency rescue zone Oost-Limburg, post Maasmechelen:

At 8.58 pm the intervention members leave for the accident. Simultaneously the officer leaves from home. When the officer and the first intervention vehicle - a multifunctional fire engine - are almost at the location, the caller tells the intervening team, through the Emergency Centre 100, that there is smoke near the vehicle and that the vehicle is possibly on fire. 

In the light of the latest information, the commander decides that 2 persons need to prepare preventively with breathing protection.


Upon arrival at 9.03 pm the situation becomes clear. A vehicle missed a turn and collided with a tree.

After the reconnaissance it becomes clear that it is a hybrid vehicle.

The commander believes that the vehicle is not under tension because the airbags are activated. 

In the accident a person in the car is critically injured. Moreover, there is also smoke from the motor compartment and there are starting flames below it.

Paramedics of the emergency rescue zone have already arrived on the spot. They keep their distance given the fire. The medical urgency team needs to travel over a longer distance and is still on its way.

The protector gets the fire under control and protects the motor compartment by means of a high pressure beam from the fire engine.

The technical team starts an emergency liberation.

To create space, the technical team starts the liberation by removing the 'B' pillar of the vehicle. This way the victim can be put on a backboard from aside.  After removing the constriction of the lower limbs and feet, the victim is transferred to the medical team.

In this respect one proceeds cautiously as there is a hybrid vehicle involved.

The victim is transported critically injured to the local hospital, but unfortunately succumbs to his injuries.

During the aftercare the intervening firemen disconnect the 12 V battery and cool the motor compartment abundantly. Before they leave the site, the car is checked by means of a thermal imaging camera.

When the vehicle is towed onto a breakdown van, the vehicle starts to burn again.

According to the towing service, this fire was preceded by a loud bang and a bright blue jet of flame.

The fire department gets a new call and tries to extinguish the fire in the vehicle with foam, but this doesn't work.

The vehicle is put on its side in order to be able to reach the burning high volt battery, but alas…

Only after a long time of searching the service plug and removing it with the necessary PPE the fire in the vehicle can be extinguished.

The vehicle is accompanied by the firemen to a safe stand.

The commander has organized a debriefing after the deployment and informed the posts of his emergency rescue zone. For this the course ‘Hybride & Elektrische voertuigen’ (hybrid and electric vehicles) of the Centre of Expertise for civil security (KCCE) has served as a source of inspiration.

CTIF Belgium has contacted all instances involved and the manufacturer to learn from this accident and to provide a few recommendations.


CTIF News Logo

Edited for the Web & Published by Bjorn Ulfsson / CTIF Communications & Media Group



Tom Van Esbroeck: tom.vanesbroeck@brandweerzonecentrum.be

Kurt Vollmacher: kurt.vollmacher@brandweerzonecentrum.be

CTIF Commission For Extrication & New Technology