Preparing emergency responders for the coming wave of electric vehicles
NFPA Journal, November/December 2010
I was in Arizona on vacation recently, and I was struck by a television commercial for an electric vehicle (EV) charging station. It was a slick, modernistic device, and a number of them were shown lining an urban street much like today’s parking meters. In the ad, electric vehicles were parked curbside, their batteries recharging as their owners shopped, worked, or strolled the city streets.
I paid a little more attention to the ad than I normally would have, because I’d just been to the International Association of Fire Chiefs’ (IAFC) Fire Rescue International Conference in Chicago. At the conference, NFPA joined General Motors, OnStar, and IAFC to train first responders on what to do in the event of a collision involving an electric vehicle. At the training, more than 300 attendees watched a live extrication from a Chevy Volt (pictured), GM’s new electric vehicle that hit the market this fall.
While many of us are familiar with hybrid vehicles, we don’t see electric vehicles on the road—at least not yet. But they’re on their way. Most car makers have announced their entries into the EV market, and President Obama has pledged to put a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.
NFPA is already addressing the ramifications these developments hold for our first responders. Earlier this year, NFPA received a grant from the Department of Energy as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to develop safety training for the fire service and first responders as they deal with the growing number of electric vehicles hitting the roads. With more than 1 million first responders across the country, this is a huge task. NFPA is also looking at a host of related issues, from charging stations to code implications; we’ll bring you more on those efforts in a feature package that will appear in the January/February issue of NFPA Journal.
This fall, NFPA went out and solicited input from career and volunteer firefighters across the country on what they wanted to be trained on and how they wanted the training delivered. Based on their feedback, as well as through collaboration with auto manufacturers and research conducted by the Fire Protection Research Foundation, NFPA is developing the program to meet their needs. Specifically, the recent study available from the Foundation on electric vehicles (Firefighter Safety and Emergency Response for Electric Drive and Hybrid Electric Vehicle PDF 4MB) provides convenient information for the development of base content for this topic.
NFPA’s electric vehicle training will provide first responders with the information and materials necessary to respond to emergencies involving these vehicles, including identifying electric vehicles and responding to common hazards. Training topics will include the locations of high-strength steel, cut points for extrication, electrical shut-off procedures, and more. To ensure easy access, the training will be available in a variety of formats, including instructor-led/classroom, self-paced, and online via a Web portal that will include video and podcasts. A new website, evsafetytraining.org, has been created to provide all the information related to the program, from training to the latest news to links to auto manufacturers related to their individual electric cars.
So while I may not be sitting next to an electric vehicle at a stoplight today, I will be soon. NFPA’s Electric Vehicle Safety Program is the latest tool to ensure our first responders are prepared to protect themselves and their communities, just as they always have.
Lorraine Carli is vice-president of Communications for NFPA.