In response to the rapidly growing number of hybrids now motoring down U.S. highways, the National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium (NAFTC) has developed, and recently piloted, a training workshop designed specifically for America’s first responders. Unfortunately, as the nation utilizes more and more hybrid vehicles, the number of accidents involving hybrids will also increase. While hybrid vehicles are as safe as conventional vehicles, different problems may arise in the event of an accident due to a hybrid’s high-voltage system; therefore, emergency fire and rescue personnel need the facts on how to safely extricate persons involved in hybrid vehicle accidents, while at the same time protecting themselves. Providing credible information and hands-on training is a mission of the NAFTC, and the new training workshop for first responders is a product of that dedication.
NAFTC Executive Director Al Ebron and NAFTC National Instructor Scott Martin conducted First Responder’s Safety: Hybrid Electric Vehicles workshop at the Uniontown Fire Department in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. Forty firefighters and paramedics were in attendance from Uniontown, Connellsville Township, and surrounding areas. The training was the first of its kind to take place in the State of Pennsylvania and serves as a pilot program that will eventually be offered to first responders throughout the State and ultimately nationwide.
“Providing alternative fuel vehicles and advanced technology vehicle training to interested groups is always a satisfying experience,” said NAFTC Executive Director Al Ebron. “But to work with first responders who do so much for us is truly gratifying. The NAFTC is excited to be adding this training as a service to our first responders.”
The four-hour workshop included an in-class presentation and vehicle display which introduced participants to the basic types of hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) available as of 2007. Basic principles behind hybrid vehicles were discussed along with more detailed coverage of hybrid electric vehicle hazards. A hybrid’s high-voltage system can present several hazards for first responders; the system can contain 275V from the battery and up to 650V from the orange cables going to the inverter/converter. The workshop covered the numerous built-in automotive safety features that will protect occupants and first responders during extrication, but warned of the potential damage to these safety systems during a collision. Workshop participants were therefore instructed on locating the master battery disconnect that can be used by the first responder in case the automatic disconnect activation is compromised.
A Toyota Prius from Uniontown Toyota was on display for hands-on demonstration of the location of the high-voltage battery, high-voltage cables, and safety features of a hybrid vehicle. A key factor in the success of the class is the demonstration of a hybrid vehicle; most participants have heard about hybrids but have not seen one in person. The demonstration familiarizes the participants with the basic operation and safety features of the vehicle. With all the advances in technology, it is an important factor to experience the functions firsthand. The demonstration portion of the class provides an opportunity to have a Q&A session, allowing hands-on explanation of most questions.
Many people have heard myths about hybrid vehicles and potential dangers due to their high-voltage systems. One of the most well-known myths concerning first responders is “Can I be shocked if a hybrid is immersed in water?” The answer is no. This is just one example of concerns that participants have. The class is designed to present the facts and dispel the myths concerning hybrids and their advanced technology design. Most participants mentioned that prior to the class they would have been apprehensive when approaching a hybrid due to the myths they have heard. However, afterwards, having learned how the vehicles operate and how to approach them in a safe manner, they would be comfortable if they were to encounter a hybrid vehicle in an accident, which could mean a more successful extrication.
“Our goal is to protect the firefighter,” Uniontown Fire Chief Myron Nypaver said. “We don’t do that victim any good if we don’t know what we’re doing. The vehicles are safe. There are areas on the cars that we have to respect.”
The NAFTC would like to thank the Uniontown Fire Department and all of the first responders who participated in the first responders workshop.
For more information on the workshop First Responder’s Safety: Hybrid Electric Vehicles and all other NAFTC training opportunities, visit our Web site http://www.naftc.wvu.edu or contact us at 304-293-7882.