Two first responder training sessions took place this summer in St. Louis and Chicago. The National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium (NAFTC) developed the First Responder Safety Training curricula through the Clean Cities Learning Program (CCLP), funded by the U.S. Department Of Energy (DOE) Clean Cities Program, and the Advanced Electric Drive (AED) Vehicle Education Program, funded by the U.S. DOE.

These sessions were two of six being held across the country this year. In May, First Responder Training sessions were held in San Antonio, Texas and Long Beach, California. Two fall sessions are scheduled for Atlanta and Boston. The NAFTC and Yuba College instructor and fire safety expert, Gary Garissi, will conduct the training sessions. Garissi teaches at Yuba College in California, and works as a fire fighter for the Yuba City Fire Department.

St. Louis

Vehicles line up at the Kirkwood Fire Department during the St. Louis Clean Cities Event. Credit: St. Louis Clean Cities.

The NAFTC and St. Louis Clean Cities held their training program in the suburb of Kirkwood, Missouri. The Kirkwood trainings took place over two days. The first day focused on electric drive vehicles, the second day dealt with the handling of gaseous fuel vehicles. Kevin Herdler, executive director of Clean Cities St. Louis, attended and helped coordinate the event.

“This training is a must,” Herdler said. “We have to find a way to share this with every first responder, no matter if it is a fire fighter, police officer, tow truck driver, or medical professional just trying to help.”

“I would love to have about two months dedicated to this training that would allow me to get to every first responder in the area. These are sons, daughters, husbands, and wives, both inside and outside of this vehicle. It would break my heart to lose one because of one cut in the wrong place,” Herdler added.

Herdler has experience as a volunteer fire-fighter. He has been involved with Clean Cities St. Louis since 1993, and has been the coordinator since 2000.

“A couple of things stood out to me in the CCLP First Responder training,” Herdler said. “First, rethinking the way you approach a wrecked vehicle, the new things you need to look for, like identifying markers on the vehicles. The other is the mobile application that will allow them to know where to make cuts for a rescue.”

The mobile application of the quick reference guide (QRG) is part of the NAFTC’s suite of First Responder Safety Training products. It details various makes and models of electric drive and alternative fuel vehicles, alerting first responders to such items as high-voltage cables, cut zones and other safety information.

Herdler is clear in his support for alternative fuel vehicles, “These vehicles are safe; they have been tested, they have been put through the ringer. I have driven a gaseous fueled vehicle since 1997 and I own two right now and have no fears taking my grandchildren for a ride.”

The Chicago Area Clean Cities first responder training featured sessions on biofuel, gaseous fuels, hydrogen and electric drive.

“With an increasing number of alternative fuel vehicles on our roads, there is a growing probability that local first responders may encounter an accident involving an AFV,” said Chicago Area Clean Cities Coordinator Samantha Bingham. “Education such as this training gives our first responders the information they need when responding to an event involving these nontraditional fuels.”

“The hands-on vehicle segments and the videos I believe had the most effect on the trainees,” Bingham continued. “Being able to actually see events on the videos and engage with the trainer while reviewing the vehicles was extremely helpful.”

Chicago firefighters examine the engine of a CNG (compressed natural gas) Chevy Impala at the Chicago Area Clean Cities event. Credit: Samantha Bingham, Chicago Area Clean Cities Coalition.

This was the first time the “Chicago Area Clean Cities coalition worked with first responders in the area. Due to the success of this summer’s event, additional training programs are being planned. Chicago Area Clean Cities has partnered with the City government to promote the use of alternative fuel. The city has up to 25 private alternative fueling stations in the works, and started the “Green Taxi Program” last year. This program encourages the local taxi industry purchase cost-effective hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles to help the City to move closer to reaching carbon emission goals as set out in the Chicago Climate Action Plan.

“Like anything, education is the key to acceptance,” Bingham said. “Much of the public is not even aware that there are alternatives to petroleum or they don’t believe the technology is commercially available. A common thing we hear from the general public is their safety concerns with compressed natural gas and propane as vehicle fuels. I believe eight times out of 10 these individuals change their attitudes after speaking with our coalition members.”

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