By Shayne Mintz
Are your fire crews prepared to respond to incidents involving electric, hybrid, or fuel-cell vehicles?
First responders across Canada rush to incidents daily that may involve alternatively fueled vehicles (AFVs), and many of them are not immediately aware that they are dealing with this technology. These vehicles often look identical to their gasoline or diesel-powered counterparts, but collisions involving AFVs may result in serious, potentially fatal, on‐scene injuries to emergency responders and vehicle occupants, along with possible collateral property damage and post‐incident injury or death.
It is vitally important responders identify these vehicles at the earliest possible stages of an incident. Knowledge of AFVs will drastically alter the entire strategy and tactics of a response plan. AFVs can pose serious safety risks if they aren’t handled properly.
With the growing number of these vehicles on Canadian roads, first responders and all those who respond to auto accidents, including law enforcement, EMS, and tow and salvage operators, need to be aware of the dangers.
Potential dangers of AFVs include stranded energy, unexpected silent movement, toxic and flammable gases emanating from a damaged high-voltage battery, thermal runaway, battery fires and re-ignition, and the possibility of electric shock through exposed high-voltage wires and components, as well as emergency events occurring at AFV charging stations.
Serious hazards can arise when crews need to cut into or otherwise operate in and around an AFV and responders are unaware of the location and access to shut off modules. The various cabling and high-tension wires built into an AFV may be struck or damaged during extrication.
In late March, Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of Tesla Motors, released the new all-electric Tesla Model 3, and predicted that half a million Tesla vehicles would be on roads by 2020. With continually fluctuating fuel prices and increasing importance placed on the reduction of carbon emissions, these types of vehicles are going to continue to increase in popularity. Fleet owners of taxis, trucks and busses using AFV technology in their vehicles are already seeing significant benefits to their bottom line. There are other tangible benefits too: no oil changes, no tune-ups, lower overall operating costs, and incentive grant programs that encourage new vehicle purchasers to go green.
The NFPA, in response to the need for fire-service training specific to AFVs and by way of several grants made possible by the United States Department of Energy and the Federal Emergency Management Association, developed in 2011 an online, comprehensive first responder safety-training program for hybrid, electric and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle emergencies (www.evsafetytraining.org/training – see Sean Tracey’s NFPA Impact column in the November 2011 issue of Fire Fighting in Canada). The Alternative Fuel Safety Training Program covers electric vehicles, hybrid and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and vehicles that are fueled by hydrogen.
The program clarifies emergency responder strategies and tactics when responding to AFV incidents, especially in cases in which they may differ from the approaches used when dealing with conventional internal-combustion engines.
This program includes: an eight-hour classroom training component, which is delivered through a train-the-trainer format; a comprehensive emergency field guide that is intended as a convenient, consolidated, quick-reference field manual for first responders to use on scene or as a study guide to provide essential information about incident response when dealing with AFV incidents; and, a program website with additional products and resources for first responders.
The Council of Canadian Fire Marshals and Fire Commissioners recently secured funding for this program, and has entered into a licensing agreement with the NFPA to provide AFV training to first-responder services and agencies across Canada. The council has also arranged to have the entire program translated into French through the generous support of the Standards Council of Canada.
While details on the nationwide roll out of the program are still in the development stage, this is a ground-breaking arrangement for the council and the NFPA. Hopefully the agreement will be a model for future collaborations at the national level.
Stay tuned for more details on this project as it comes to a fire department or training centre near you.
Shayne Mintz is the Canadian Regional Director for the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Contact Shayne at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter at @ShayneMintz