Innovations in electric vehicle extrication training
By Gary Robertson
Alberta fire services are leading the charge with an innovative electric vehicle extrication training program
By Gary Robertson
Kananaskis Emergency Services has collaborated with a fellow Bow Valley firefighter to bring an innovative electric vehicle training program to the Calgary region and beyond. The program, “Electric Vehicle Extrication,” was developed by Banff firefighter Kevin Patterson and the program’s inaugural delivery was made to a group of 20 students from seven department at the Kananaskis Emergency Services Centre on Feb. 26 with a second sold-out session taking place on March 19 at the facility. The program is the first of its kind, combining the most current information available on new model hybrid and electric vehicles (EV), new vehicle technology and safety systems coupled with a one of a kind opportunity to get hands on with an EV.
Patterson is a long-time member of the Banff Fire Department and also an expert in vehicle extrication and extrication tools. Patterson has had the opportunity to travel down to the Tesla plant in California on a number of occasions to work with the engineers and emergency response team to bring back vital information to emergency responders and has had the experience of cutting apart over a million dollars in Tesla vehicles throughout his training. Patterson is one of only two people in Canada that are recognized by Tesla’s technical lead for emergency response to deliver this specific training.
Patterson’s close relationship with Tesla afforded him the unique and exclusive opportunity of being given access to an intact and functioning Tesla Model X. Patterson has spent countless hours turning his Model X into the only one of its kind in North America. The cutaway vehicle has been meticulously split down the middle with half of the vehicle appearing normally and the other half stripped back to reveal specific electric vehicle components, new vehicle technology and safety systems that protect occupants, but can pose risk to emergency responders. The vehicle allows responders to see, in person, the location and configuration of batteries, wiring harnesses, emergency disconnects, airbags, structural reinforcements and more.
Patterson’s specialized cutaway vehicle has garnered the attention of Tesla’s engineers and its branches in Canada and the United States. All of the vehicle’s systems function, which allows Patterson to demonstrate and the students to see the vehicle function; including the Falcon doors, unique to the Model X, and their vehicles air suspension, which Patterson controls using an air bottle from a breathing apparatus. The vehicle is marked on the exterior to show responders the location of vehicle safety systems such as air bags and compressed gas cylinders, some of which are in unconventional locations on the Model X. Students are also able to see some of the vehicle’s reinforcement points that require adaptation to common extrication techniques like dash rolls and modified dash lifts. The additional reinforcement located in the lower A-post is undetectable behind the vehicle’s interior paneling and finishes. It serves as a good reminder to responders of the importance to “peel and peek” when performing an extrication. The only component missing that would make the vehicle driveable is its main battery, so Patterson transports the vehicle to the training sites on his specially configured trailer that uses a winch to load and unload the vehicle.
I am the acting fire chief for Kananaskis Emergency Services, and our vision of is to be leaders through innovation. We have a longstanding professional relationship with Patterson and have had a number of discussions over the past couple of years about collaborating on providing electric vehicle training to the region. We are seeing an increase in electric vehicles throughout the Bow Valley as the technology, especially as it relates to batteries, improves and the range of these vehicles increases. Even locally in Kananaskis, some facilities already have electric vehicle charging stations. We know there are increased challenges and risks faced by responders in managing these vehicles in the event of a fire or collision and we wanted to be part of the solution.
In June 2020, the new Kananaskis Emergency Services Centre formally began operation. The facility, funded by Alberta Parks, houses the Kananaskis Improvement District municipal offices, fire department, Alberta Health Services EMS and the Alberta Parks- Kananaskis dispatch program. The new facility was designed and built not only for service delivery, but with the vision to establish a centre of excellence in emergency services training. Departments from across Southern Alberta and within the Bow Valley corridor already send their members to Kananaskis for training, and the organizations Firefighter Residency Apprenticeship Program is an industry leading innovation that has garnered attention across the country.
Through design, our intent was to have a facility that not only met the operational needs today and into the future, but afforded us the ability to expand and diversify our training programs and offerings. When the opportunity arose to work with Patterson in bringing his program to life, it was the perfect collaborative opportunity that embodied our organizational vision. All of the credit for the program, its content and his Model X cutaway goes to him. Our role was to provide the venue and use our experience in hosting training programs to manage the logistics of delivery.
The program is hosted as an eight-hour session that combines in-class learning and a hands on walk-through and review of the Model X vehicle. During the in-class section, students go through electric vehicle anatomy, new vehicle safety technology, safe approaches to electric vehicle extrication and safe approaches to electric vehicle fires as it relates to all makes and models of electric vehicles, not just Tesla. In addition to his comprehensive presentation, Patterson also reviews vehicle emergency response guides and resources that first responders can access and reference when they encounter electric vehicles in the field. There are also components students have the opportunity to get their hands on to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the vehicle components and safety systems. Patterson also works to dispel common misconceptions about working with electric vehicles at emergency scenes and emphasizes what the real risks are to first responders and the vehicle occupants, and how responders can manage those risks.
“I feel this is a huge opportunity for me to make a dent in the electric vehicle and hybrid first responder training” said Patterson, who draws not only on his experience training at the Tesla plant but on years of experience as a firefighter in Banff Alberta and as a rescue tools technician.
In Kananaskis, we have had great feedback so far from our attendees. This is truly a unique offering and many are not sure of what to expect when they sign up. As we host more sessions we anticipate the demand to grow. We are already looking to some additional course dates for 2022 and 2023.
Upon completion of the program students are awarded a certificate and are given resources to take with them back to their home departments. While Kananaskis Emergency Services has had the honour of being the host location of the first two programs of its kind ever delivered, Patterson is interested and willing to deliver the program to other departments who may wish to host it. To contact Patterson about training opportunities visit www.ev-x.ca. •
Gary Robertson is currently serving as acting fire chief for Kananaskis Emergency Services and has been with the organization as a captain and training officer since 2012. Over his 19-year career training has always been his passion both in personal development and organizationally in the development of a number of training programs, courses and a live fire training centre.