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NFPA Impact: November 2010

Canadian advocacy groups hope that one in every 20 new cars sold in Canada in the next decade will be electrically powered. Their target is to get 500,000 highway-capable, plug-in vehicles onto Canadian roads by 2018. This is in addition to the anticipated even larger numbers of hybrid vehicles.

November 5, 2010
By Sean Tracey

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Canadian advocacy groups hope that one in every 20 new cars sold in Canada in the next decade will be electrically powered. Their target is to get 500,000 highway-capable, plug-in vehicles onto Canadian roads by 2018. This is in addition to the anticipated even larger numbers of hybrid vehicles. Last year in the United States, President Obama pledged that one million plug-in, hybrid, electric vehicles would be on the road by 2015, and championed a US$2.4-billion initiative to accelerate electrical vehicle research and development efforts. These vehicles will represent a new slate of challenges for rescuers when responding to incidents on the road and in home fires. Will our first responders be prepared for the transition?

To ease Canada’s path to this objective, several federal government departments have funded the Electrical Vehicle Technology Roadmap project. This roadmap has identified technological hurdles in order to redirect federal funds to overcome them. The initiative appears to be about removing technological roadblocks and developing educational and public relations programs that increase awareness of the benefits of electric vehicles; however, this roadmap does not identify the need to train first responders on the issues that may arise from this new technology. The Canadian fire service needs to get ramped up now.

These electrical vehicle (EV) concepts will create new hazards for the fire service, including increased risk of electrocution and risks posed by high-voltage, quick-charge stations and hydrogen generators in homes and communities. Because of these concerns, the NFPA has launched the U.S. Emergency Responder Safety Training for Advanced Electric Drive Vehicles. This project will develop and implement an emergency response training program focused on advanced electrical vehicles, including plug-in hybrid EVs, EVs and fuel cell vehicles. The three-year project, funded by a US$4.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, will develop a website that will include training programs, simulations and videos. Classroom courses will also be developed, with webinars and handbooks as possible spinoffs. The NFPA anticipates completing many first responder training courses for the project in 2011. The status of this project and many useful tools are already available on the NFPA website dedicated to the project, www.evsafetytraining.org.

The NFPA’s goal is to create the premier portal through which first responders can access education and safety information about all aspects of advanced electrical vehicles. The aim is for widely accessible training programs so that first responders can be assured that they can handle whatever circumstance may surface, and that they are prepared to safely deal with any new hazards or vehicle extrication techniques that may be required.

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Ideally, practical training courses should be rolled out at training centres across North America.

Yet to be determined is how much of the information may be available to Canadians because of restrictions placed on the NFPA by the grant. It is believed that although Canadians may have access to the Internet materials, funding for training centres may be out of the question.

The good news is that the development of training tools and other materials is well underway by the NFPA. To assist in the development of the program, the NFPA has assembled a technical advisory panel. The panel includes representatives of the IAFF and IAFC with whom Canadian fire-service members have established relationships.
But the better news is that the sole Canadian on the panel is John Cunningham, representing the National Association of Fire Training Directors. Cunningham is executive director of the Nova Scotia Firefighters School and his presence on the panel should ensure that Canadian first responder concerns are incorporated into the training.

We need to look at how first responders will roll out practical training across Canada, including the translation of materials into French. As mentioned, it is not likely that this will be funded by U.S. taxpayers. We therefore must look at approaching the Canadian government to fund this initiative. A modest estimate of the cost to roll out the train-the-trainer might be $500 per registrant for a two-day course. With 3,700 fire departments in Canada, this cost will easily exceed $2 million, without the consideration of French translation and travel expenses. Although this amount sounds daunting, it would represent a levy of just $4 per EV in Canada – and this is with the materials already being developed by the NFPA.
 
The Canadian fire service needs to prepare now for the technological challenges of electrical vehicles. We need to be a participant on the Electrical Vehicle Technology Roadmap to ensure that funding is available to train the trainers on these added risks.


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