With the number of alternative fuel and electric drive vehicles increasing rapidly, there is a great need for first responders to be adequately trained on how to properly respond to accidents involving these vehicles.

First responders, instructors from various colleges, Clean Cities Coordinators and a range of technicians participated in a two-day, train-the-trainer First Responder Safety Training workshop at the College of the Desert in Palm Desert, Calif., June 13-14.

Conducted by the National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium (NAFTC) and co-hosted by the Clean Cities Coachella Valley Region, the training was part of the Clean Cities Learning Program (CCLP). The initiative is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy Clean Cities Program to develop classroom materials that raise awareness about alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicles.

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CCLP First Responder Safety Training attendees look at a Honda FCX Clarity during the two-day, train-the-trainer workshop at College of the Desert June 13-14. Credit: NAFTC

The First Responder Safety Training Train-the-Trainer Workshop consists of four modules, which include biofuels and biofuel vehicles, gaseous fuels and gaseous fuel vehicles, hydrogen and hydrogen-powered vehicles and electric drive vehicles. The workshop taught instructors how to deliver the two-day First Responder Safety Training in their local area, thereby teaching emergency personnel what they need to know about alternative fuel vehicles and how to respond to an accident scene, especially when involving extrication. The First Responder Safety Training’s target audiences are firefighters, law enforcement officers, paramedics, emergency medical technicians and hazardous response officials.

“Alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicles are the future of transportation,” said NAFTC Executive Director Al Ebron. “These next generation vehicles will reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign oil and help keep our air clean. Because alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicles are becoming more prevalent and will continue to increase in popularity, first responders must understand the differences between these cars and trucks and conventional, gasoline-powered vehicles. The First Responder Safety Training provides a proactive approach to keeping emergency personnel and the citizens they serve safe.”

“With the Clean Cities Learning Program, the NAFTC has been increasing availability and awareness of alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicles while training Clean Cities coordinators, technicians, first responders and instructors,” Ebron added.

To kick off the workshop, NAFTC Clean Cities Learning Program Project Manager Catherine Mezera provided introductions about the NAFTC and the Clean Cities Learning Program, followed by an overview of the U.S. Department of Energy Clean Cities Program by Richard Cromwell III, Coachella Valley Region Clean Cities Coordinator. NAFTC National Instructor Mark Schmidt also attended the training.

“Not only did we tap first responders from the Southern California region, but we had some out-of-state folks come, which was great,” Cromwell noted. “If there’s anything that gets in the way of the progress of our alternative fuel future, it is our desire to get rid of those barriers. There are so many urban legends, and these types of (training) programs have a tendency to make those go away, so we can get away from traditional fuels that are affecting our country’s security.”

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Yuba College Automotive Instructor Gary Garrisi teaches during the classroom portion of the CCLP First Responder Safety Training. Credit: NAFTC

Along with extensive classroom instruction by Yuba College’s Gary Garrisi and Don Schumacher, the training included the opportunity to become familiar with the various types of electric drive and alternative fuel vehicles such as the Chevrolet Volt, Nissan LEAF, Honda FCX Clarity, a propane-powered truck provided by Roush CleanTech and several compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles. Participants also had a variety of other hands-on training demonstrations such as exploding an airbag and viewing fires with geothermal imaging cameras.

“I think the training was received very well,” said Garrisi, who is also a full-time firefighter. “Those in attendance were enlightened to some of the things we need to do make first responders aware of how to handle alternative fuel vehicles during accidents. With the changes in technology, the way we approach vehicle accidents and vehicle fires no longer works. First responders need to be aware of how to safely immobilize vehicles and to maintain their safety and also the safety of the passengers and patients inside the vehicles.

“I think this training is a must for all first responders,” he added. “In the future the (vehicle) technology is going to be out on the roadways, and there is very little training going on. The bottom line is that we want people to go home safe at the end of the day.”

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College of the Desert Automotive Instructor Julius Varga, left, and Seattle Community College Instructor Howard Anderson, participants in the NAFTC’s Clean Cities Learning Program First Responder Safety Training, watch an exploding airbag demonstration. Credit: NAFTC

First Responder Safety Training participant Captain Tony Hernandez from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s San Diego Unit-Training Division agreed that the need for the NAFTC’s training is great, especially with the speed at which vehicle technologies are advancing.

“In my position, as someone in the training division, it is important for me to identify areas where we may be lacking knowledge,” he noted. “Advanced technology (vehicles) is one of those areas. If there is anything that compromises the safety of our personnel, such as the design and manufacturing of new vehicles, we need to get out more information about their construction and operation.”

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Captain Tony Hernandez from CAL FIRE’s San Diego Unit-Training Division uses a thermal imaging camera to view a flame. Credit: NAFTC

“There is definitely a need for enhanced training to our personnel in the field,” Hernandez added. “I know a lot of folks, especially those responding to traffic collisions, who don’t have as much information as they should to be able to deal with them effectively. There is a huge gap in technology advancements versus the awareness level for first responders. What I got out of that training is that there’s a huge need for us to enhance the number of training opportunities for first responders and adequately prepare them for these types of collisions.

“I think that the NAFTC was very diligent in its use of grant funding to get this out there. It’s an important topic in fire service.”

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