By Jeff Julian and Gary Garrisi

June 17 JJ 2 Gary

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.

At this point, it is safe to assume that most firefighters have encountered an alternative fuel vehicle (AFV) at the scene of a traffic incident, and most likely that vehicle was an electric drive vehicle (EV) as EVs are the most prevalent alternative fuel vehicle on our highways. However as the growth of other types of AFVs continues, techniques for other fuels are and will be required for the safe resolution to vehicle fires.

Vehicle types that could be encountered by today’s firefighters include:

  • electric drive (including hybrid-electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, battery electric vehicles, and fuel cell electric vehicles)

  • compressed natural gas vehicles

  • propane autogas vehicles

  • ethanol vehicles

  • biodiesel vehicles

  • hydrogen vehicles

Each of the above mentioned fuels require their own unique firefighting techniques and failure to recognize this can create life threatening issues for both the firefighter and the public they are dedicated to protecting.

This article cannot replace proper training, but some basic concerns of dealing with these fuels would include:

  • Compressed natural gas is stored in vehicles at pressures of up to 3600 psi in fiber wrapped tanks.

  • Electric drive vehicle batteries are encased in a steel enclosure, which should never be compromised by the firefighter.

  • Propane autogas is heavier than air, therefore a leak at the scene of an incident could cause the fuel vapors to pool in low lying areas near or around the car.

  • Ethanol fires require waterless firefighting techniques.

  • Many alternative fuel vehicles are “bi-fuel” in configuration, meaning they have two different fuel tanks and fuel sources.

  • Liquefied natural gas is a cryogenic, and can cause severe burns if handled incorrectly.

  • Hydrogen can be stored in pressure vessels up to 10,000 psi and is extremely flammable if vented outside the tank.

To conclude, we encourage each and every firefighter to educate themselves on these new vehicle technologies and the proper procedures to deal with them. Alternative fuels are moving into both the light- and heavy-duty marketplace and as further government regulations requiring more stringent emission and fuel economy standards push automakers into new vehicle territory, alternative fuel vehicles are and will become even more popular to today’s consumers.

Next month, On Scene will cover proper personal protective equipment for incidents involving alternative fuel vehicles.

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