By Jeff Julian and Gary Garrisi
Jeff Julian and Gary Garrisi are First Responder Contract Trainers for the National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium (NAFTC). Mr. Julian has 40 years of experience as a first responder and public safety training in Yuba, CA. Mr. Julian has trained first responders across the United States in safely working with alternative fuel vehicles since 2011. Mr. Garrisi has nearly 30 years of experience as a first responder, and has worked with the National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium as a trainer since 2008.
Note: The information contained in this article is not a substitute for dedicated Alternative Fuel Vehicle Safety Training. Attempting to assist with a vehicle incident of any kind without proper knowledge, skills, and experience can be dangerous and may result in harm to the responder and those involved in the incident.
One of the first lessons recruit fighters learn is the use of proper personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect them from hazardous environments. All too often firefighters are injured and sometimes killed because PPE is not used or used improperly. Fire department management often times turn a blind eye when it comes to implementing and enforcing policies regarding the use of PPE, but it is imperative that fire departments update standard operating procedures (SOP) regarding use of PPE for incidents involving alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs).
AFVs are every bit as safe as conventional vehicles, but they are different and must be identified so the proper PPE is used.
The following are suggestions for PPE considerations when dealing with AFVs.
When working on or near vehicles that have high voltage components, such as hybrid vehicles, battery electric vehicles, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, the primary hazard is the potential for electrocution.
Structure firefighting PPE may give limited protection in these instances. Many fire departments are providing rated high-voltage gloves for their personnel to use when working around vehicles with high voltage components for the added safety of their responders.
High-voltage gloves and other PPE specific to AFVs and electric drive vehicles should be available to fire fighters who might respond to an accident involving these vehicles. Credit: NAFTC.
When working on or near vehicles that fall under the gaseous fuel vehicles category, such as compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles, liquefied natural gas (LNG), liquefied petroleum gas vehicles (LPG/propane autogas), hydrogen vehicles, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (see note at end of article), the primary hazard is fire and the potential for explosion. Structure firefighting PPE will provide some protection if the vehicle is on fire.
Additional consideration should be taken into account in working with liquefied natural gas vehicles. The cryogenic properties of their fuel can cause immediate frostbite on contact. Special hazardous material PPE should be considered when dealing with a leak of liquefied natural gas.
Vehicles that run on blends of ethanol and biodiesel do not present any different hazards compared to conventional vehicles.
The challenge for fire departments and firefighters today and in the future, is to be able to identify the fuel and power sources of all types of vehicles and identify the hazards so proper PPE is used to protect the firefighters. Appropriate AFV safety training is crucial for first responders to work safely on incidents involving these vehicles.
*Due to the nature of their fueling systems both the electric systems and gaseous fuel systems should be considered when responding to accidents involving hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.