June 17 JJ 2 Gary

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.

Approaching the scene of an automobile incident involving an alternative fuel vehicle initially requires no techniques different than those gained in standard firefighter training. Rather, if a firefighter follows their department’s standard operating procedures (SOPs) for vehicular incidents half the alternative fuel vehicle battle has been won.

The NAFTC sees the education process for alternative fuel vehicle firefighter techniques an opportunity to not only educate on new and important skills, but to reemphasize basic firefighting techniques that can sometimes get lost or forgotten over time.

At the scene of a vehicular incident, a firefighter should:

  • verify he or she is wearing the proper personal protective equipment as specified by their department. This should include (per NFPA 1981 and 1971) a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA); turnout pants and coat; flame retardant hood; approved boots; helmet; face shield or goggles; and fire resistant gloves.
  • park the emergency response vehicles uphill and upwind from the scene of a vehicular incident.

  • do not rush into the scene of a vehicular incident! First, evaluate the scene and its possible hazards before attempting vehicle immobilization or extrication. Do a complete 360 degree circumnavigation of the incident from a safe distance, looking for important details such as leaking fuels, smoke, fire, flammable but invisible vapors, while simultaneously attempting to identify the vehicle or vehicles involved.

  • immobilize the vehicle by chocking the wheels.

  • if there are passengers still in the vehicles, make initial patient contact, while simultaneously determining if the vehicle is still in operation (ignition on, engine running). Use the vehicle’s power options to maximize patient access (adjust power seats, power windows, power door locks).

  • place vehicle in park, set the parking brake.

  • turn off the ignition by reaching behind the steering wheel (to avoid the steering wheel airbags).

  • if a smart key is present, remove the smart key at least 25 feet from the vehicle. Also be aware that a second smart key may be present in the vehicle, especially if there are two occupants.

  • turn on the hazard lights to verify that the 12 volt system is still active.

  • confirm that the dashboard instrument panel is off. This will confirm that the vehicle has in fact been switched off.

  • locate and disconnect the 12 volt battery by first cutting 3 to 4 inches from the negative battery cable. Secondly, cut 3 to 4 inches from the positive battery cable.

  • verify that the hazard lights are not inoperative to confirm that the 12 volt system is now inactive.

  • extricate the patients following your department’s SOPs.
  • While the above described techniques may seem basic in nature, they should always be followed at ANY vehicular incident. Without proper basic training, firefighters put themselves at risk whether the vehicles involved are conventionally powered or alternatively fueled.

    The next article in this series will educate on the proper ways to identify an alternative fuel vehicle, and how to add this education onto the above standard procedures.

    As always, the NAFTC would like to thank the brave men and women who respond to these incidents and encourage you to stay safe.

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