SOUTHFIELD (WXYZ) – “The typical electric vehicle has enough voltage to kill you if you don’t know how to handle it,” according to a National Fire Protection Association safety training video aimed at keeping emergency responders and those they assist with safety during incidents involving electric vehicles.
As more electric vehicles (EVs) hit the road, a number of Michigan fire departments are learning everything from where it’s safe to use the jaws of life to extricating a trapped person in an EV to how to safely extinguish a fire when an EV is on fire.
“The most important thing is that we train our crews to be aware of anything orange in color,” said Capt. Jason Deneau of the Southfield Fire Department’s training division.
“The industry seemed to adopt the norm that anything orange is high voltage. If you think a normal passenger car has a 12 volt battery in it. Now an electric vehicle still has that 12 volt battery , but it may or may also have a 400 volt battery.”
Southfield firefighters recently joined other fire departments for a special training session hosted by General Motors.
Courtesy of Pew Research Center
“Our main goal is to provide key information directly to first and second responders,” said Joe McLaine, GM’s global product and systems safety engineer and lead on the training effort. “This training offers unique material and hands-on experiences that can help increase responder awareness of procedures to help maintain safety while interacting with electric vehicles while performing their duties.”
And because each electric vehicle manufacturer designs their vehicles differently, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) offers online guides for each make and model that emergency responders can access while at the scene or en route to Getting There.
NFPA | Electric Vehicle Safety Training Video
There is a misconception that firefighters cannot use water to extinguish a car fire involving an electric vehicle. In fact, firefighters must use copious amounts of water for a longer duration to extinguish the fire and cool the battery to such a level that it will not reignite when towed or in a tow yard.
Courtesy of Pew Research Center
Brighton Fire Chief Michael O’Brian said the typical petrol car fire can be extinguished in around 30 minutes, but when it comes to a fire involving an electric vehicle, it could immobilize one of their motor trucks for up to three hours.
“It’s a change. It’s a change for a community and it’s a change for all of us,” said Chief O’Brian.
“We either have to bring the water to this incident or, when there is no exposure and no humans are trapped, most likely many fire departments will let the vehicle burn. And it’s going to be another two-hour event for us,” he said.
“We need to build a good relationship with our tow yards, our salvage yards, because we can’t just have this vehicle right next to another because there’s a high probability over the next few days and maybe be a week or two weeks or three weeks it could catch fire,” O’Brian added.
NTSB: Lithium-Ion Battery Fires in Electric Vehicles – Emergency Responder Safety Risks
And unlike the typical car fire, knowing when a vehicle is safe for towing will require new methods.
“We teach them to use a thermal camera to observe the temperature of the battery; to keep the water on one side of the battery at a time for a while so it doesn’t go from side to side” , said Andrew Klock, senior director of education and development for the NFPA, who added that electric vehicles are no more dangerous than regular gas-powered cars and trucks, but they are different.
“Electric vehicles make no noise and produce no vibration,” Klock said. “And a firefighter might, at first, think, ‘Wow, that car isn’t on because I can’t hear anything. I don’t feel anything. But if that car is in gear, it could topple the first responder very easily. So that’s one of the first things we emphasize – approach the vehicle from the side or at a 45 degree angle to make sure you’re not going to be in danger. »
The NFPA provides electric vehicle safety training that meets NTSB recommendations for emergency responders. Online training is offered free of charge to volunteer and part-time firefighters.
“It’s a game-changer for us,” said captain Deneau. “And training is important for our members because ultimately we want to be able to do our job safely, effectively and efficiently, which ultimately takes care of the motoring public or anyone who find it there.”
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