Innovations like alternative fuel vehicles widely available on the market mean that first responders are best served to undergo training specific to accident response so they can handle the situation should it arise — and with AFVs’ growing popularity, the odds are high it will. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that by 2040, nearly 11 percent of all light-duty vehicle sales will be alternative-fueled vehicles, of which about 3 percent will be dual fuel methanol, ethanol, liquid propane gas, compressed natural gas or electric vehicles.
So what does this mean for first responders now? According to Bill Davis, director of the Morgantown, W. Va.-based National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium at West Virginia University, first responders should be wary of buying into prevailing myths. It’s not an issue of more dangerous conditions, but different ones. AFVs are just as safe as petroleum-powered models, he said. The risks, however, vary. For example, a few of the most common hazards include high-voltage and amperage electricity for EVs, high-pressure gas with compressed natural gas and hydrogen, potential cryogenic damage to skin with liquefied natural gas and propane autogas. There’s also respiratory hazards.
“Some batteries on electric vehicles may be hazardous to breathe, if on fire,” he added.
A guest blog post on the NAFTC website, titled “Alternative Fuel Vehicles — Just as Safe as Conventional Vehicles, But Different,” also drives home this post. Two veteran first responders turned trainers argue this case:
“Because AFVs are unfamiliar to many, incidents involving AFVs seem to draw excessive news coverage when compared to those involving conventional vehicles. In some cases, like a refuse truck fire in Indiana, responders on scene were trained and responded to the best of their abilities. Others have to be classified as near misses as an obvious lack of training and the implementation of a department’s standard operating procedures without consideration of the specialized vehicle they were addressing made a bad situation worse.”
Having knowledge of best practices can save lives and minimize risk. That’s why his group is at the forefront nationally in developing, managing and promoting programs and activities that desire to cure America’s addiction to oil, lead to energy independence and encourage the greater use of cleaner transportation. The NAFTC is the only nationwide alternative fuel vehicle and advanced technology vehicle training organization in the United States.
Speaking of training, Davis said he has seen his share of incorrect procedures. The approach matters even before the first responder enters the vehicle or makes contact with the victim.
“The change has been in the identification of the vehicles and the rendering of the vehicle safe to enter,” he said. “The standard operating procedure of the department should still be followed to assess and handle the situation.”
Beyond this, Davis underlined the importance of ensuring that EVs with smart keys are completely shut off before attempting to remove personnel from vehicles. Knowing where to cut EVs is also critical, he said.
This knowledge is not necessarily intuitive. That’s why the NAFTC makes educational opportunities available to emergency services professionals. The NAFTC offers hands-on training on-site in most situations. Online training is available as well, but not as recommended because “you lose the hands-on with it as well as the instructor/student interaction,” said Davis.
“The NAFTC training prepares first responders (including fire, EMS and police personnel) to identify AFVs upon arrival at the scene, feel comfortable in rendering the vehicle safe for the situation and bring the incident/accident to a safe conclusion for the first responder and the occupants of the
AFVs,” he said.
According to the NAFTC, more than 10,000 technicians have been trained from industry, academic and governmental organizations. The U.S. Postal Service, the U.S. Air Force, U.S. DOE Clean Cities Programs and private fleets are among the groups that have used training materials from the NAFTC.
Train-the-Trainers courses include classroom time to learn fundamentals, videos, discussions, pre-and-post-tests and lab/ shop activities. Those who elect to undergo on-site training in Morgantown have access to a multi-bay automotive lab, which is used during training for demonstration, skills training, diagnostics, emissions testing and maintenance issues. New courses are routinely developed to address specific topics relevant to AFVs and first responders.
Training can be coordinated with other local agencies and the local Clean Cities coordinator. For information about the training, visit naftc.wvu.edu.