A Different Angle on Cutting Modern B Pillars

22 Oct 2019

Cutting the B Pillar of a car with a Holmatro NCT CutterThe 2020 model year vehicles are now in full production. Of course, there are new updated safety systems for us to study. We also see continued advancement of metals and reinforcing structures, but nothing that cannot be overcome to release an entrapped patient, when performed by a trained rescuer using modern hydraulic tools.

The Challenge of Modern B Pillars

One of the many construction changes that we have seen over the years is the increase in physical size of the B Pillar, the floor to ceiling post in the side opening of the vehicle. This post not only supports the roof, but also gives protection to occupants during a side impact collision. The performance of the structure as protection can be crucial for survival and injury prevention. However, at the same time, the post can then become a mechanism of entrapment or an obstacle to patient removal during the rescue process. Most B pillars are oval or rectangular shaped, and use multilayer construction. Cutting modern B pillars can prove very challenging or even impossible with older hydraulic tools. We can get into the mechanics of cutting modern materials and the science behind the blade shape design as a future blog topic. Today we will discuss the methods of attack.

Attacking pillars from the side

The pillars are installed so that if you are facing the side of the vehicle, you look at the wide face. Many times this profile is in excess of 8 inches (203mm), which is wider than the opening of most existing hydraulic cutters. This makes attacking the post from a perpendicular angle (straight in from the side), impossible. A parallel attack, with the tool in line with the vehicle, is necessary for quick action. Approaching the pillars on the narrow sides, from the front or rear, will prove more successful. Parallel cutting allows the recess, i.e. the area closest to the main hinge bolt, to be placed against the post. Positioning the cutter in this way provides for the most available power from the tool to be used, resulting in more efficient and faster cutting. It also lets the rescuer use a smaller, lighter tool to get the job done. 

Cutting a B pillar from the side with a Holmatro Inclined Cutter
Cutting a B Pillar from the side (parallel cut) with an Inclined Cutter. Its 30-degree inclined blades leave more room between your tool and the car (plus your patient!).

Work smarter, not harder

Those extremely big cutters, with openings in excess of 8 inches (203 mm) are much heavier. They are also unnecessary for the majority of extrication operations. It’s like trying to put out every garbage can fire with a 3 inch (76mm) diameter fire hose. Using a lighter and more practical tool for the job saves time, lessens fatigue and prevents potential injuries. As usual I refer back to the advice of my father,  “work smarter, not harder…”. Sounds easy, however, here is the catch. Two things must be taken into consideration.

First consideration: Is my cutter strong enough to pierce the material? 

As a parallel cut will not allow you to surround a wide B pillar, the blade tips will have to puncture it to complete the cut. It also means that after the first cut, the operator must shift the tool to the other side of the post and connect the cuts. Many hydraulic cutters, simply lack that ability. They are powerful near the main bolt, but fall short in penetrating cuts. The New Car Technology (NCT) blades used in the 5000 series Holmatro cutters have been designed to perform well on both surrounding and penetrating cuts. Always remember to inspect any area you will be cutting. Of course we look for airbag inflators and other safety systems, but also structures that can hinder our cuts. Since we are penetrating with the tips of the blades, care must be taken. Check in pillars for things such as seatbelt mounting tracks and the bolts for these tracks. When cutting the lower A pillar, check for the hinge mounting plates and avoid the area where the hinge is bolted; it is reinforced. Both of these precautions may slow down cuts but can also cause serious damage to the cutter tips! 

Penetrating B pillar cut with Holmatro Inclined Cutter
Making the first of two penetrating cuts with a Holmatro Inclined Cutter.

Second consideration: Will there be enough space for tool movement?

Due to natural tool movement the safety of the patient and the operator come into play even more so. Because the cutter is now parallel to the vehicle, the operator’s hands are in close proximity to the vehicle structure (and often in between the tool and this structure!). Monitoring pinch points and using the tool slowly are extremely important. Also, watching the tool so that it does not rotate inwards onto a patient, causing pain or further injuries, is crucial. The inclined blade feature of 5000 series Holmatro cutters is intended to address both of these concerns. The design allows the cutter to be positioned at a 30 degree angle, away from the vehicle. The body of the tool and the operator’s hands are several inches away from the vehicle structure, leaving a safe area for both the operator and the patient. This makes parallel cutting options on large B posts much safer and easier. 

More space between the tool and the car with an Inclined Cutter
An Inclined Cutter offers more working space between the tool and the car than a straight blade cutter and is therefore ideal for cutting B pillars from the side.

Tip: watch Holmatro Rescue Hacks episode #2 about smart B pillar cutting!

As new car models are developed, technology continues to advance. This may have an impact on the use of rescue tools and techniques. Remember, the most powerful, most valuable tool in your toolbox is you. Take care of it. Maintain it, and constantly upgrade it with new skills and knowledge.

I welcome your feedback in the comments.

Jason Bell 
Product Marketing Coordinator at Holmatro USA


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